Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United
With results not going Newcastle United’s way before kick off in this one, Rafa and his men knew that defeat would leave them in the bottom three in the Premier League come close of play.
And despite a spirited display, from a weakened team (even by our standards), so it would transpire.
Goals either side of half time, and to ‘book-end’ a Ciaran Clark bullet header, form Pedro and Willian would see to that.
Rafa head a headache even before kick off, with Ki in Asia for their national competition, and Shelvey and Diame injured meant starts for Hayden and a first in the league for Longstaff. The welcome sight of Lejeune being the only good news on the injury front with Dummett also missing out once again.
STARTING XI: Dubravka, Yedlin (Manquillo, 82), Lejeune, Lascelles, Clark, Longstaff, Hayden, Ritchie, Perez (Murphy, 82), Atsu, Rondon
For a team oozing with quality and class playing a fragile Newcastle, one who’s own players have said they have felt the life draining from them recently, this should have been a walk in the park.
Far from it. In truth it took one good goal and one wonder strike to break the battling black and whites down.
‘These players care, you can see that’ said Rafa after the game. And he’s right.
It would have been easy for Newcastle to fold on 9 minutes when Pedro struck first. A long ball over the top from Luiz was taken down well before Pedro shot past Dubravka. The defending questionable, the finish not.
But instead of folding, the battling continued. And whilst Newcastle struggled to create clear cut chances they did make the most of a Ritchie corner on 40 minutes when Clark would rise higher and stronger than all in blue to head back past Arrizabalaga.
Newcastle managed 9 shots in this one to Chelsea’s 10. And whilst Rondon was immense up front again it was Perez who was wasteful in front of goal when well placed.
All their efforts would be in vain however. Hazard looked a different player in the second half, and it was his run that created the winner, offloading to Willian who curled a fantastic strike past the helpless Magpies keeper.
That goal would clinch it, and keep Chelsea clear of the chasing pack in 4th. For Newcastle the reality of the drop zone sets in. And with a replay against Blackburn in the Cup on Tuesday and no signings in sight. The air amongst the Newcastle faithful seems, more than ever before, to be one of resignation and apathy. Sad times.