Well well well. Chelsea faced their first real test of the season and passed it with flying colours. It was easy to write off a 2-0 win at Wigan Athletic and then the 4-2 performance against Reading as not particularly indicative of the team's quality, especially as they didn't play very good football against either. But Newcastle United, who finished fifth last season, are -- or were supposed to be -- a different kettle of fish entirely.
And then Chelsea went and stomped on them.
There were several changes made to the starting lineup from the Reading match, one of them enforced. John Terry was out of action with a neck injury, meaning that Chelsea went with their third centre back pairing of the young season. David Luiz, injured for the Reading match, came back in alongside Gary Cahill. Elsewhere, Raul Meireles was favoured over Frank Lampard for his first start of the season, and Ryan Bertrand made his third appearance at left wing in our last four competitive games.
Newcastle were without Cheik Tiote, injured in the opener against Tottenham Hotspur. It showed immediately. Chelsea had complete control of the ball and all of the opportunities, with the double pivot of John Obi Mikel and Meireles completely smothering the visitors. It was Meireles who sparked the game's first chance, sending in a beautiful diagonal pass to Fernando Torres. The striker laid it off to Bertrand, who was in acres of space in the centre of the box, only for the 23-year-old to come up with a full back's finish straight at Tim Krul.
Not to worry, however. Torres would manufacture a goal soon enough, twisting and turning before driving into the Newcastle box and going down after what at first looked looked like minimal contact from Magpies debutante Vurnon Anita. Phil Dowd pointed to the spot; the reverse replay vindicated his decision. With Lampard rested, Eden Hazard had spot kick duty, and the Belgian didn't disappoint, firing into the bottom corner for his first Premier League goal. Despite guessing the correct way, Krul had no chance.
It was Hazard and Juan Mata who shone brightest from open play. The two interchanged beautifully throughout the first half, and it didn't really matter where Chelsea had the ball. If it was deep, the duo were plotting a counterattack. If it was wide, they'd orchestrate an overlap. Central play saw vicious one-twos to cut through the Newcastle midfield tandem. It was, quite simply, unfair.
And so was the defence. With Terry out, they could have been excused for playing poorly, but one slightly insane David Luiz moment aside the entire back six (Bertrand too) was magnificent. Newcastle are a side that gave everyone real problems last year, and the combination of Gary Cahill and David Luiz turned Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse into bystanders. The midfield didn't let anyone else get involved in the match.
At 1-0, there was still some worry that a freak goal for the visitors would deprive us of our rightful points. Up stepped Torres to make things right. A one-two with Hazard opened up some space at the top of the box, and the Spanish striker didn't think about what to do or check his run, instead powering a shot past Krul at his near post to double Chelsea's lead. The commentators described the shot as a toe-poke, which is being unfair -- Torres cut across the ball with the outside of his boot for that goal, and the result was quite magnificent:
A few days ago I argued that Torres' goal against Reading was the most important of his Chelsea career. This one, with the run, the assist and that finish, was his best.
So, 2-0 at the break and the only real worries were slight injuries to Meireles (knee), Cahill (hamstring) and David Luiz (hair). Chelsea had played their best half of football this season, and were well on their way to victory. This allowed them to switch off, something I'm completely fine with. Unlike against Wigan, the play didn't get too sloppy -- this was simply a composed performance by a team that had already won the match.
The only time Petr Cech's goal looked in serious danger came very late on when Ba was given two bites of the cherry. He the Senegalese striker scuffed his first attempt, but managed to get back into possession only for Cech to produce a phenomenal save to keep the clean sheet.
Aside from that, the rain-soaked second half was very quiet. There was a couple of silly free kicks -- just why David Luiz and Raul Meireles were allowed to shoot from range while Eden Hazard is on the pitch is a complete mystery to me -- and one slightly worrisome incident which left David Luiz bleeding from the head following a clash with Ba. All in all though, it was about as comfortable as can be.
A far sight from the last time we played Newcastle. Nine from nine, top of the table. I'll take it.
PS: After the game, the camera cut to the Chelsea players celebrating. Eden Hazard was giving high fives, looking cool and composed. Until he got to the amusingly-bandaged David Luiz, at which point he burst into a huge grin and yelled 'Geezer!' at him. Perfect.