The fourth round of the FA cup meant the usual stupidly difficult away tie for Newcastle United. Today’s opponents were a Chelsea side slightly out of form of late and knocked out of the League Cup during the week by Arsenal in the second leg of their semi final.
STARTING XI: Darlow, Maquillo (Murphy, 77), Mbemba, Lascelles, Clark, Haidara, Hayden (Atsu, 83), Saivet, Shelvey, Ritchie, Gayle (Joselu, 65)
Rafa would, as promised, mix things up with some regulars and some fringe players in a starting eleven that would line up 5-3-1-1 with Matt Ritchie playing in the number 10 role behind Gayle as the lone striker.
With only Kenedy added to the squad this window so far, a player on loan from Chelsea, there was still a need to balance things with a big game on Wednesday night again Burnley on the horizon.
The game would we pretty scrappy in the opening period, Newcastle doing their best to frustrate the home side whilst showing a few glimpses and plenty of determination going forward themselves. The black and whites would not be helped by Kevin Friend however who seemed intent on giving everything, foul or not, in favour of Chelsea - pretty disgraceful referring.
Chelsea themselves seemed nervous however, repeatedly giving the ball away despite playing a significantly strong side that included Hazard, Alonso, Kante and Cahill.
Of the early chances there was a free kick wasted by Hazard after a foul and card for Mbemba, whilst at the other end a better ball form Ritchie would have seen Gayle clear to find the target and potentially give Newcastle the lead.
On 24 minutes Newcastle almost did have the lead, a great run from Haidara, whipped into the box, found Shelvey who’s prod towards goal was tipped around the post by Caballero for a corner. A very decent save to deny Jonjo his second of the season.
On 30 minutes, with Newcastle looking confident, a sucker punch. Pedro picked up the ball who played a wonderful ball through to Hazard who’s centre found Batshuayi who had the simplest of jobs to tap home for his 9th of the season. Not fair on the balance of play but that’s what you get when you have that little extra quality.
Moments later Newcastle’s forward line were guilty of not gabling after another wonderful cross by Haidara left the Chelsea keeper and defence in no mans land but there was no-one there to tap home.
Chelsea still were’nt looking composed and after giving the ball away a number of times there would be more than one half opportunity for Newcastle with the best falling to Shelvey who could only hit the keeper.
Just before half time it was 2-0. Again Batshuayi. A run and strike that was blocked by Lascelles would only bounce up and over Darlow who was helpless in watching the ball find the back of his net again. Game over!?
A late flurry from Newcastle at the end of the first half from Newcastle would see Shelvey go close again and Clark have another effort saved.
Chelsea somehow 2-0 up at half time.
Into the second half and Chelsea were just content to sit back and treat the game as a training game, trying to hit Newcastle on the break. What was pretty clear is that Newcastle continued to miss that cutting edge. The introduction of Joselu with just under 30 mins to go was hardly likely to put the fear of god into this Chelsea back line either.
With 72 minutes on the clock a trademark Alonso free-kick, another moment of real quality, would make it 3-0 for the home side. An absolute beauty! Alonso’s 7th of the season and any glimmer of hope that a late goal would set up a grandstand finish now gone.
A couple of decent saves by Darlow, one to deny a hat-trick for Batshuayi, would keep it at 3-0 with Newcastle totally abject in the second half.
Another year then with no 5th round under Ashely. Surprise surprise.
To be fair a win today would have been a lovely distraction for Newcastle United, let’s go with that rather than the usual ‘allows us to concentrate on the league’, whilst thoughts will of course move to a big few days for the Magpies with both Burnley at home and a transfer window to focus on.