The optimists among Newcastle United’s fanbase predicted that, with so many players freshly returned from international duty, Chelsea would arrive on Tyneside fatigued, fragile and, quite possibly, fractious. How wrong can you be?
Frank Lampard may have argued a Saturday lunchtime kick-off was tough on his widely travelled squad but his players looked formidably fresh throughout. Indeed they headed back to Newcastle airport on Saturday afternoon on the sort of adrenaline high synonymous with a team unbeaten in 12 games and on a run of five straight wins in all competitions. Underestimate their title chances at your peril.
It swiftly became apparent that Newcastle were in peril of conceding virtually every time Lampard’s side attacked. Tammy Abraham really should have opened the scoring after connecting with Hakim Ziyech’s deceptive, curving delivery but, instead, Karl Darlow was able to tip his header away for a corner.
It proved a strictly temporary home reprieve. Timo Werner and Mason Mount duly made the most of that set piece by combining in a short-corner manoeuvre that resulted in Mount crossing and Federico Fernández bundling the ball into his own net under pressure from Ben Chilwell. Bruce had devoted Friday morning to rehearsing such dead-ball routines on Newcastle’s training pitches but, in this instance, practice failed to provoke defensive perfection.
Fernández protested that he had been fouled by Chilwell but a VAR review confirmed the impression that this was a pretty forlorn appeal and the goal stood. From then on, a litany of visiting chances were variously spurned, saved or missed by inches. As certain teammates chased shadows, Darlow excelled, once again confounding those who feared he could be an inadequate understudy for the injured Martin Dubravka.
With Werner proving particularly adept at using his glorious change of pace to embed himself behind Bruce’s backline, Lampard’s sole concern must have been that his side’s lead was not more comprehensive. Tellingly, the only real criticism that could be made of Werner was his failure to polish off a series of invitations to evade Darlow’s reach.
As Chelsea achieved an almost embarrassing 85% of first-half possession, Bruce’s mind presumably focused on damage limitation. Sure enough, his defence morphed from a nominal back three to the most deep-sitting of back fives.
Admittedly the home side were missing the injured Callum Wilson but the artistic geometry of the visiting passing and movement surely dictated that even Newcastle’s leading scorer would have struggled for meaningful touches.
Granted, the assured Sean Longstaff did little wrong in Bruce’s central midfield, but he could hardly turn the tide alone. Even so, Longstaff tended to be involved in most of Newcastle’s better moments as they staged a slight second-half improvement.
The only downside of this marginal home uptick was that it afforded Chelsea greater space in which to counterattack. Perhaps inevitably one such break prefaced Abraham scoring his side’s second goal, courtesy of a shot that flew in off the inside of a post.
Appropriately the creator was Werner. After intercepting a home throw in, the German yet again deconstructed Bruce’s defence with a wonderful, pace-suffused dribble featuring the dodging of Longstaff, Fernández and Fabian Schär before he supplied Abraham with the vital pass.
Longstaff responded by driving a rising shot against the bar with Édouard Mendy beaten and then, Miguel Almirón, on as a substitute, was denied by Lampard’s goalkeeper. But it was very much Chelsea’s day.
#Tammy #Abraham #strike #seals #victory #Newcastle #sends #Chelsea #top
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