Chelsea were beaten 1-0 by Newcastle United on Saturday, keeping the race for the top four wide open.
The Blues dominated most of the game but were frustrated by good defending and eventually lost all three points when Isaac Hayden scored in injury time.
But what did we learn?
1. Chelsea’s biggest problem strikes again
There’s no denying Frank Lampard has done a decent job at Chelsea given the hand he was dealt but the club legend needs to take a serious look at his players.
Yet again Chelsea went into a game against a team in poor form and lost, missing the opportunity to move further away from the chasing pack in the race for the top four. As a Steve Bruce side tends to do, Newcastle sat back and looked to frustrate Chelsea having seen so many other teams do so this season, and it worked perfectly.
Just like in games against Southampton, West Ham, Bournemouth and Everton, Chelsea had the lion’s share of possession but could not do anything with it. The Blues had 19 shots in total but hit the target just four times, really not testing Martin Dubravka enough. Tammy Abraham did not have the best game, but was marked well by Newcastle’s three central defenders and his replacement, Michy Batshuayi, didn’t fare any better.
Chelsea also struggled on the wings with Willian proving too sloppy with his final balls, while Mason Mount had another below par game. Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and N’Golo Kante linked up well on Chelsea‘s right but it was not enough to hurt the Newcastle defence.
2. Newcastle show fight at home once more
Chelsea don’t like playing at St James’ Park, and Newcastle made sure that continued on Saturday. Prior to last season’s 2-1 win under Maurizio Sarri, the Blues had gone five trips to Tyneside without victory, losing four times and drawing once.
Newcastle have also fared fairly well at home this season beating Manchester United 1-0 and drawing with Manchester City. But in recent weeks things haven’t been as great. Before their 4-1 FA Cup third-round replay win, Bruce’s side had lost their past two home games to Everton and Leicester City, scoring just once and conceding five times.
But against Chelsea, Newcastle were excellent in defence, perfectly frustrating the Blues‘ front line. When Chelsea attacked, Newcastle’s back five were flat and so were the four players in front of them. It meant that they could crowd out Abraham and force the wingers to dribble into packed areas. There were still moments that Chelsea‘s attack could have capitalised on but Newcastle got the luck their defensive performance deserved.
3. James’ positive impact cut short
There weren’t too many positives for Chelsea in this game but one definitely was the performance of Reece James.
The 20-year-old was starting his 12th game of the season off the back of signing a new five-year deal at the club, a reward for his fine performances so far this season.
And James was Chelsea‘s biggest attacking threat, asking questions of Newcastle’s defence with excellent crosses into the area – the type of delivery that has drawn somewhat premature comparisons to Trent Alexander-Arnold.
James was also solid defensively and kept his flank largely tight up against tricky opposition in Allan Saint-Maximin.
But it wasn’t all positive for the youngster as he had to be taken off midway through the second half with what appears to be an injury to his right leg. Given how good he has looked already this season, Chelsea will be hoping his absence is brief.
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4. Lack of goals remain a worry for Newcastle
Even though Newcastle did sneak the win in the final moments of injury time, their own struggles in front of goal could cause a problem.
Hayden’s effort was one of just two shots Newcastle had on target in the game, with the Magpies failing with five further shots. Newcastle’s 4-1 win over Rochdale in midweek saw Miguel Almiron continue his goalscoring run and Joelinton end his drought but the former really didn’t cause Chelsea any problems.
Joelinton did have a few chances, hitting the crossbar with a header in the first half and sending a shot wide in the second, but if Newcastle do slip down the table they’ll need a goalscoring striker to keep them up.
Hayden’s strike took Newcastle to 22 goals for the season, with Bruce’s side averaging fewer than one per game. Only Watford and Bournemouth have scored fewer than Newcastle in the Premier League, both managing 20 each.
Improving the goals scored column could be the difference between slipping back into the thick of a relegation battle or pulling away into the top half of the table.
93:26 – Isaac Hayden’s goal was Newcastle’s first 90th minute winner in the Premier League since December 2015 (Ayoze Perez against Tottenham), and was their latest scored in the competition since Yohan Cabaye netted against West Ham back in January 2014 (94:09). Grabbed. #NEWCHE pic.twitter.com/OpcVVbc5SO
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 18, 2020
5. Newcastle’s injury woes continue
Although Newcastle went into this game with a ton of injuries, things appeared to be getting better for the Magpies and their collective fitness troubles appear to be passing. In recent weeks they have welcomed back key players Matt Ritchie and Jamaal Lascelles from long-term absences and were able to field close to their first-team XI against Chelsea.
But just 10 minutes into the game injury struck again. This time it was to Jetro Willems who went down after knocking knees with Hudson-Odoi. There was no bad tackle, just a collision as they contested a ball close to the corner flag. But Willems was unable to continue and had to be taken off on a stretcher, being replaced by Ritchie. The extent of his injury is yet to be revealed but given their luck, Newcastle fans may not be optimistic.
Jetro Willems has been stretchered off after just 12 minutes against Chelsea.
Newcastle United's injury curse continues. 😔
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) January 18, 2020
There were further fears shortly after when Hayden went down seemingly without challenge in the middle of the pitch. However, the midfielder was able to play on and finished the game strongly by scoring the winning goal in injury-time.