Chelsea return from the snowy northeast with but a solitary point to their name, courtesy of Salomon Kalou equalising after Andy Carroll's 5th minute goal. While Chelsea were aided by a healthy dose of bad luck, the simple truth is that they weren't good enough to win. The result sees the defending champions slide into second place, ahead of Arsenal only on goal difference, and two points behind the weakest Manchester United side we've seen for perhaps twenty years.
It didn't have to be like this, of course - while Newcastle looked threatening in the early exchanges at St. James' Park, Chelsea were plenty dangerous as well, and there was nothing particularly incisive about the play that lead to Carroll's opener. John Obi Mikel (who had a bad game overall) and Wayne Routledge tussled on the halfway line and the ball eventually broke towards the Chelsea area. Petr Cech rushed out to collect, and Alex helpfully steered a backpass into the space the goalkeeper had just vacated which eluded Cech's despairing lunge. Carroll, who had continued his run, was left with an easy tap-in and the Blues were left with a mountain to climb.
It didn't really go so well. The attack was disjointed, and most of Chelsea's really incisive play came from the work of the fullbacks. Against a makeshift Newcastle back line, Didier Drogba was miserable. Nicolas Anelka had a reasonable game, but with Drogba occupying prime real estate he was more or less relegated to the periphery, while Salomon Kalou did a here and there, everywhere and nowhere routine. You absolutely cannot fault the effort that Kalou puts into matches, but some more focus might be necessary for him to start to make a real impact. Anyway, despite Anelka's class and Kalou's ceaseless toil, the attack looked rather blunt for the better part of the first half.
The midfield consisted of Florent Malouda, Ramires, and Mikel, and although the latter had one of his more miserable days in a Chelsea kit, Malouda was excellent and Ramires had something of a breakout performance, failing to do anything calamitously stupid while laying in some clever passes and leading a few excellent charges out of defence. Mikel's erratic form led to Ramires assuming more defensive responsibility than usual, which meant Malouda was acting as a left-sided attacking midfielder without a counterpart on the right.
This worked out well for Chelsea's opener, which occurred shortly after Ashley Cole had been denied what appeared to be a clear penalty for a shove in the box. Right at the end of regular time in the first half, Kalou broke through the centre of the Newcaslte midfield, played a ball to Malouda who flicked it back into the Ivorian's path. Kalou then navigated through a pair of Newcastle defenders in the penalty area before a deflected shot found itself nestled in Tim Krul's goal.
Chelsea came out for the second half back on level terms and looked a good deal smoother than in the first, but were still somewhat lacking in front of goal. They were coming much closer, though, and both Drogba and Anelka had reasonable chances go skidding wide. The best opportunity of the half, however, fell to Kalou, who looked poised to take advantage of a horrendous mistake by Krul and slot into an empty net from no more than three yards. The angle made the shot reasonably difficult, but Kalou's bizarre choice of shot did him no favours either. With the ball on his left foot, Kalou elected to hit it with the outside of his right, which resulted in a shot into the side netting rather than in the much easier target of the actual goal. It was a spectacular miss after excellent work to set up the opportunity, and really took some of the burnish off what could have been a man of the match display.
Don't let me fool you into thinking that Chelsea completely under the cosh, though - there were chances for the home side too. Carroll beat both Alex and Branislav Ivanovic to a header from a dangerous cross, but Cech was equal to what ended up being a very tame effort. More dangerous was when a mistake by Ivanovic forced Cech come out to clear. Cech didn't do a good job of it, leaving Wayne Routledge with the ball on the edge of the box with no goalkeeper in sight. Routledge made no mistake with his volley, but Ashley Cole was equal to the task, quickly scampering back into position and making an acrobatic stop on the line to preserve the draw.
As the game wore on, Carlo Ancelotti introduced Daniel Sturridge for Mikel in a desperate bid for a goal. It didn't work, as Sturridge muffed the one good chance he was presented with. Although gum was chewed and eyebrows were raised in an attempt to conjure up the winner, it wasn't to be, and it's hard to argue with the draw that resulted when Andre Marriner blew the whistle for full time on a snowy Sunday morning. Chelsea have now been outscored 7-2 in their past five Premier League matches.
Highlights from Fox Sports/MSN.