Chelsea’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League were slim at best, and with Liverpool winning, the outcome of this game didn’t matter. The damage with regards to those ambitions had been done a long time ago. Still, one would expect at least a professional effort from these highly paid professionals. Instead, Chelsea turned in a spineless, spiritless performance to lose 3-0 to Newcastle on the final day of the 2017-18 season.
It could be argued that putting anyone other than Cesc Fàbregas on the pitch in his current form would be an improvement for Chelsea. But the Blues’ lack of options was evident once again, as Ross Barkley was chosen to deputize, making just his fourth appearance for the club and first since the end of January. In fairness, to the January signing, Barkley was one of the better players today, though that’s not saying much.
Other than that surprise, Conte reverted to the 3-5-1-1 shape that worked well against Liverpool, and making two more changes from that team. In addition to Barkley replacing Fabregas, Emerson came in for a rested Alonso (two full 90s earlier in the week), and Rüdiger rotated out in defence, with Christensen going central and Cahill wide. Otherwise, it was the same as last Sunday and as many were hoping for in midweek, too (when Conte rotated and switched things up in favor of the 3-4-3).
Conte’s opposite number went with his tried and true 4-2-3-1, though without Kenedy, who was not allowed to play against his parent club. Jacob Murphy came in for him; othereiwse it was the same lineup that put up quite the resistance at Wembley midweek but eventually lost 1-0 to Tottenham.
Newcastle’s home record this year stood at 5 wins, 2 draws and a single loss in 8 games. So it would not be today that they would roll over and let us do what they wanted to them, as even during their recent run of four straight Premier League losses the Magpies were still giving tough battles to their opponents.
And it has never been an easy ride for Chelsea when they take the trip to Newcastle. This would be no different.
Although the kickoff was ours, the intent to get something out of the first minutes in the match were all on Newcastle. They quickly swept the ball from us and started ticking it around, with all of their plays transitioning by Jonjo Shelvey.
It was a barrage of long and short balls played centre and to the wings in an effort to keep Chelsea pinned down to their defensive third. And Chelsea had no answer.
Pressure from Chelsea off the ball was timid, and only exercised when Newcastle were already way deep in our areas. Their fullbacks, especially DeAndre Yedlin who was up against Emerson in our left flank, were able to overlap and support almost all moves made by Newcastle who were far from shy on throwing themselves forward to get the opener.
They were massively aided by Chelsea’s lack of any edge moving forward. Our advances were easily defended by Newcastle, with midfield battles being lost and passes intercepted by well-positioned defenders. The attackers in Barkley, Eden and Giroud were starved of service, although they did not do much in the few occasions they had the ball to themselves even when Newcastle let go of pressing and dropped deep to defend.
At least Newcastle were not getting quality chances with their advances, which is the very least to expect from such a predicament. Still they were dangerous with shots from Shelvey and his midfield colleague Mohamed Diamé forcing Courtois to intervene.
But so often they moved forward without much of a fight from Chelsea that they eventually started to get into good spots to score. Courtois saved this first chance on a point-blank shot, and saved a second. The third one, however, was too much to ask from who had been our man of the match.
Newcastle’s attackers in Matt Richie and Murphy were already given us loads of trouble with their challenges from the ball in the wide areas. Challenges which they were constantly winning against our defenders, and this one was yet another where one of them found success going against our men. Courtois managed to save Murphy’s attempt, but could not do the same on Dwight Gayle’s.
Things could have worsened with Shelvey infiltrating our box and getting another shot at Courtois that luckily went wide. If Chelsea were already fumbling and tumbling from kickoff, their problems were only exacerbated by the opening score.
The onslaught from Newcastle continued for almost 10 minutes after their first goal, as they were still finding room to shoot from distance and make it through our defence. For them, it was a task as easy as slicing butter with a hot knife.
Once they tired themselves of having so many chances at our goal, recording 10 shots to none of Chelsea’s at minute 38, they dropped their lines and gave Chelsea some breathing space. Similar to what we saw taking place with Huddersfield, it was flicks’ galore and sideways passing from the men in Blues. With the added mischief of not having a player that could take a pass to open the Magpies’ defence in equal suit to what Shelvey had been doing with us throughout the match.
Even with Newcastle willingly sitting back and letting the clock run, they were still the ones closer to scoring in the last minutes of the half. With Chelsea failing to get a corner in the game, Ayoze Pérez got very close to score his side’s second. That would be the 11th shot from Newcastle against none from Chelsea in 45 minutes.
A change of attitude was needed if Chelsea wanted to take something from the game. Even if Liverpool were already two goals ahead of Brighton in their match-up and thus taking any of our chances from earning a CL spot in the last round of the Premier League.
And instead of keeping themselves numb, they answered. Upon returning from half-time, there was a complete turn from what they showed in the first half of the match as Chelsea were now having the impetus in attack.
Newcastle were still dangerous with their forays, as our wings remained as porous as ever. Nevertheless Chelsea were creating chances, and it felt as if we could assemble a comeback today.
However, our bad luck in front of the goal persisted. With our lines moving forward and proper pressing being applied to stop Newcastle from having the same amount of space to attack us with the ball in their hold, chances were all ours. But we simply could not convert them.
There was a chance from Giroud to score a wondergoal on a marvellous turn to finish a cross from Barkley with his back to the goal. Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka took this pleasure from us with an intervention in the same ilk.
Barkley himself, who had been largely anonymous in the first half was starting to show up as well. His growth into the game was interrupted when Newcastle showed Chelsea how things should have been done by the visitors.
It is a sad state of affairs as even when Chelsea are much better than their opponents moving forward, they still fail to score while their opponents to otherwise. Newcastle’s second goal was such an occasion, where the hosts scored their second goal in their first chance of the second half. With a shot from Shelvey deflected by Pérez fooling Courtois, who then had to accept the ball going past his goal.
Momentum returned to Newcastle’s camp, with Chelsea scrambling to defend. Although the Georgies themselves were not too solid at the back either, allowing Barkley to get the best goalscoring chance of his Chelsea career thus far to open his record in the new club on a counter-attack.
Such a chance would go to waste, and less than two minutes after Newcastle would apply further damage to whatever was left of us at that point.
Out of a Shelvey free-kick lounged to centre-back Florian Lejeune and played centre towards Pérez that Newcastle’s third goal arrived. Two chances, two goals less than twenty minutes into the second half.
With the 3-0 win in their bags, Newcastle could turn patient and drop back once again, ticking the ball and the clock towards the final whistle. At first it was what they did, as Chelsea collected missed opportunities with Moses and Giroud.
Still Newcastle seemed superior to Chelsea in finding the best chances to score. The double change introducing Álvaro Morata and Willian for Giroud and Barkley respectively, and then Pedro entering the game for Eden, did us no favours.
Fight from Chelsea was nowhere to be seen as we dragged ourselves to what was unfortunately a fitting end to this Premier League title defence. In yet another match where everyone but one player in Courtois were just well below their standards, and did not show themselves up for a job they are well paid for.
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