Brilliant finishes by wingers Pedro and Willian gave Chelsea a 2-1 win over a spirited Newcastle United side at Stamford Bridge. Ciaran Clark’s well-placed header temporarily levelled for the Magpies.

 

Longstaff features for the Magpies

Maurizio Sarri fielded his regular starting XI for the home clash with Newcastle United, with Eden Hazard once more starting in the false 9 position. 

Willian and Pedro started at the expense of young prospect Callum Hudson-Odoi, despite the winger’s lively performance against Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup semi-final at Wembley.

Spanish forward Alvaro Morata amidst reports of a move to Sevilla was notably absent from the matchday squad. Gonzalo Higuain is rumoured to be close to moving to Stamford Bridge as Chelsea search for a striker.

Newcastle lined-up in a 5-4-1 formation as Rafa Benitez set up to frustrate his opponent. Sean Longstaff’s inclusion in central midfield marked his first Premier League start.

Chelsea take an early lead

Chelsea found an early goal following a long delivery from centre half David Luiz. Pedro controlled well after timing his run to stay onside before producing a delightful dinked finish over the onrushing goalkeeper to put the home side ahead.

Precise diagonal balls from Luiz to find blue shirts on the right were a regular feature of the game, with Cesar Azpilicueta picked out on many occasions.

Chelsea dominated the early stages, winning second balls in the midfield after. However, the visitors grew into the game midway into the first half, beginning to get men forward and hold possession.

Despite this, Chelsea remained dangerous on the break. A quick break resulted in Matt Ritchie bringing down Pedro on the edge of the box and earning a yellow card. Luiz went close with a deflected header from the free kick.

Rafa’s frustration lifts before half-time

A first corner of the game for United was taken short, with the ball eventually falling to centre half Lejeune. A volleyed effort from the defender was easy for goalkeeper Kepa.

The chances continued to fall for the visitors. Rondon blazed a shot high and wide after a well-worked move orchestrated by Christian Atsu. Then Ayoze Perez, under pressure, shot wide of the near post following a flick on. 

A deserved equaliser came from a corner. Ritchie, urged to take the corner long by the away fans, found the head of Ciaran Clark. The Irishman got in-between Luiz and Rudiger to bury his effort in the corner of the net.

The game opened up after this, with Willian firing wide and Ritchie blazing a volley well off target after good work on the right from DeAndre Yedlin. Both Newcastle wide-men were lively throughout the first period. In contrast, moans rang around Stamford bridge at half-time.

High-octane second half

The second-half continued the match with a frantic pace, with Newcastle threatening from crosses and Chelsea’s deft touched testing their defensive solidity. The pick of the early chances saw Pedro denied his second Dubravka, who saved to his right well.

Isaac Hayden struggled in midfield at times and was dispossessed to allow Willian to earn a corner on the left. Chelsea continued to mount pressure, and Marcos Alonso’s pullback from the byline was mishit by Pedro and saved easily.

As Chelsea frustrations continued to grow, their lead was restored by Willian. The Brazilian was fed through the left by Hazard before taking his time and bending a stunning effort just inside the far post.

Crucially for the Blues, Hazard was on the ball much more in the second period, repeatedly turning Newcastle midfielders and creating chances for those around him to earn his assist.

Newcastle weren’t out of the game just yet. Some excellent technique by Perez and Rondon led to a penalty claim which the referee correctly waved away.

A booking for Jorginho followed a cynical foul before Kovacic made way for Ross Barkley.

Hazard, always subject to rough treatment by Premier League defenders, went down under a heavy challenge. In the bizarre lull that followed as the ball could have been put out of play for the injury, Luiz played Willian in behind. The Brazilian’s dinked shot was saved well by Dubravka.

Black-and-white fatigue

A knock to captain Jamaal Lascelles required some treatment before, with the towering centre half was back on his feet. However, Newcastle lacked energy in the press entering the final twenty-five minutes, and Chelsea’s lead looked unthreatened.

This tiredness led the Magpies to concede unnecessary fouls their own final third, piling the pressure on themselves.

Hudson-Odoi replaced goalscorer Pedro, with the goalscorer applauded by the fans. The youngster’s introduction induced chants of ‘we want you to stay’. Bayern Munich remain on the prowl to lure him to the Allianz.

Newcastle responded with a double change. The tireless Yedlin jogged off for Javier Manquilo and Perez made way for Jacob Murphy with ten minutes to go.

Rondon’s hold-up play improved in the second half. The forward, at times a handful for the Chelsea defence, missed with a header after a promising cross.

Olivier Giroud replaced Hazard in the final Chelsea change. The Belgian’s game was quiet by his lofty standards but fans desperate to see their talisman stay in West London clapped him off nonetheless.

Newcastle squandered the last chance of the match disappointingly. With three centre halfs in the box, Ritchie opted to go short. Given his earlier assist from a corner, this was a bizarre decision. The full-time whistle blew after Atsu overhit his cross out of play.

The updated table

It wasn’t vintage ‘Sarriball’, with Chelsea sloppy in possession on many occasions. However, Chelsea increased their lead over top-four rivals Arsenal to six points after the Gunners’ 1-0 loss at West Ham United earlier in the day.

The travelling fans continued to sing at full-time, proud of their team’s performance. Ominously, Saturday’s results leave them relegation zone ahead of a crucial clash against fellow relegation candidates Cardiff City next weekend.

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