A deflected goal and a dubious penalty gave Chelsea victory over the stubborn defence of Newcastle as the Blues’ continued their 100% start to the season.
It was a case of attack versus defence at St. James’ Park on Sunday, with Chelsea having complete monopoly over possession against a well-drilled Newcastle rearguard. The tone of the game was set from the first minute, with Blues’ centre-backs Luiz and Rudiger pushed right up the pitch behind the midfield trio of Kanté, Kovacic and Jorginho.
Although Chelsea enjoyed 81% of possession and new signing Jorginho, who continues to impress, completing more passes than the entire Newcastle team combined, clear-cut opportunities were at a premium. Eden Hazard and Pedro were given free roles as Sarri continues to put an emphasis on fluid, attacking football. Whilst they looked good on the ball, they rarely received it in positions that could genuinely hurt Newcastle and Blues’ striker Morata was well martialed, by Fabien Schär in particular, who excelled for the Magpies.
It took a 30 yard pile driver from Antonio Rudiger in the 70th minute to provide the first real threat to Dubravka’s goal. A typically patient build up from Chelsea created some space for the German who unleashed a shot that smashed the Newcastle bar.
Chelsea’s main attacking threat, as was the case on numerous occasions last season, was full-back, Marcos Alonso. It was his surging run into the Newcastle area that led to the penalty in the 75th minute. The Spaniard appeared to have got goal side of Fabien Schär before the defender brought Alonso down from behind. Eden Hazard duly dispatched the penalty to give Chelsea the lead.
Up to this point, Newcastle had shown very little attacking threat. Summer signing Salomón Rondón cut a lonely figure up front before being taken off and replaced by Joselu. With what must have been one of the replacement’s first touches of the ball he glanced a near-post header into the corner of the net following a fantastic cross by Newcastle’s stand out performer, Yedlin. David Luiz, on his heels in the area, was beaten to the ball by the striker who left Kepa with no chance in the Chelsea net. 1-1.
The game then slipped back into the expected pattern, with Chelsea pushing forward and Newcastle happy to take the point. Chelsea’s winner came in the 87th minute, when Alonso’s shot was diverted into his own net by Yedlin, who had no choice but to play the ball, with Ross Barkley on hand to finish had it reached him.
There were elements of controversy in both opening goals at St. James’ Park on Sunday. Fabien Schar clearly played the ball as he brought Alonso down for the Chelsea penalty. However, Schar did bring Alonso down from behind, so whether the fact that he played the ball is enough to avoid punishment is up for debate. If Alonso had not been brought down, the likelihood is that he would have got a shot away in a very promising position for Chelsea.
In the build-up to Newcastle’s goal, Olivier Giroud did appear to get an elbow to the face from Yedlin. Both players had their eye on the ball, but there is no doubt that the Newcastle full-back gained an advantage as Giroud was left in a heap on the floor, to allow the cross to come into the box unchallenged.
Man of the Match
Eden Hazard was the driving force behind Chelsea’s attacking play at St James’ park. The diminutive Belgian has been given a free role in Maurizio Sarri’s new system, able to come deep when necessary and get on the ball whenever possible. It was clear, particularly when Jorginho was on the ball, that he was looking to find Hazard in the pockets between Newcastle’s midfield and defence.
Had Zidane remained at Real Madrid, it is more than likely that Hazard would have moved to the Bernabeu. The Belgian has previously talked of his admiration of Zidane both as a player and coach. But you get the sense that Hazard will enjoy his time with Chelsea this year under the stewardship of Sarri. After the defensive, counter-attacking style of Conté, where Hazard seemed to drift in and out of games, he will be glad of the possession-based style of Sarri. With Chelsea likely to dominate possession in the majority of games, as they showed against Newcastle, the neat touches and precise football of people like Hazard, Willian and Jorginho will become more and more important as the season goes on.
If Chelsea are to do anything of note this season, Hazard has to play to his peak and if his first start is anything to go by, Chelsea could do a lot better than many predicted when the season kicked off.
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