Newcastle’s put away three great goals in one of the most entertaining matches of the year. In terms of spectacle, there was little that this match lacked. All five goals scored were of high quality, and there could have been several more for either team. No doubt the frustrated Blues fans will find more sources of frustration in this match, but Newcastle played well for their part.
The man on the lips of Newcastle and Chelsea fans alike will be Moussa Sissoko. Newcastle’s signing scored two goals, including the last-minute winner in only his second appearance for the club. Yoan Gouffran, who was also debuting, was also impressive bringing a spark of creativity to Newcastle’s midfield. The Toons are not safe from disaster yet, but it is becoming clear that their January signings were well scouted. It would be hard to imagine them going down after such a bold reinforcement.
The first half of the match was entirely Newcastle’s. Pressure on Chelsea’s goal was sustained for long periods of time without any dangerous retorts from the Blues. Chelsea’s only quality look at goal was through Demba Ba, but this chance was hindered when Fabricio Coloccini kicked the striker in the face. Ba left with no goal and a broken nose for his trouble. Torres came on for Ba, and aside from his customary token assist to Mata, the Spaniard was ghost on the pitch.
After half time, Chelsea became far more attacking and dangerous. While it was undoubtedly an improvement from the first half, this also left them open to countering. They scored two fabulous goals, but Cisse, Gouffran, and Sissoko took advantage of their massive gap in midfield, combining well for a counter goal.
Statistically speaking, the match is fairly even on paper. Chelsea managed a shade more of possession with 54.2% retention of the ball. They lagged slightly behind in pass completion though, with a 79% success rate compared to Newcastle’s 83%.
In the final third, the two clubs were roughly equal concerning their intricacy. Newcastle completed 76 passes and Chelsea 88, both for a completion rate of 66%. Even their crosses were fairly evenly match, with 5 and 6 respectively.
The most telling statistical difference is in chances created. Newcastle had a total of 16 chances to Chelsea’s 13. This in itself is not telling, but 3 of Newcastle’s chances were clear-cut opportunities for goal while Chelsea had 0 clear-cut chances.
The influence of Yohan Cabaye’s return has had a galvanizing effect on Newcastle’s play. Cabaye was the Toons’ most active player in the midfield, with more touches on the ball than any other player. His 50 completed passes were the most of any player for either team. 5 of these passes were entries into the penalty area.
Of course, the influence of Cabaye is already well-known. The true revelation in this match was Sissoko. The Frenchman’s work rate was immense, and especially effective against a Chelsea side that looked depleted and in need of a rest. His passing was accurate (85% completion) and typically attacking. He distributed the ball well around the outside of the penalty area, helping link wide players to the central attack.
Despite having a squad full of names synonymous with inventive play, Chelsea did not create any clear-cut chances.
A portion of this can be attributed to the Blues thin squad. Many of Chelsea’s players appeared to be exhausted by the end of the match. The result was a slow transition phase. Chelsea at times could attack and defend well, but seldom at the same time. When pressure was concentrated up front, they looked dangerous, but also open to counter attack. When they had numbers in defense, they looked adept at repelling chances, but slow to change gear back into attack. In the second half when their focus shifted prominently to attack, this allowed Cabaye to pass far more directly.
Compounding the issue of exhaustion was a distinct lack of holding midfielders. In Rafa Benitez’s 4-2-3-1 system, the two central midfielders are vital as anchors. Without them, the midfield is easily overran. The amount of space Chelsea left in the center of the pitch was at times shocking, and they did little to pressure Newcastle’s attack. Chelsea had only 4 successful interceptions in the entirety of the match.
For their part, Newcastle defended well. Mata passed 7 times into the penalty area, but most of these were adeptly repelled. Mata’s final third passing was typically directed wide. Through balls through the center of Newcastle’s defense were typically incomplete.
The two goals that Chelsea did manage were products of individual prowess as opposed to team efforts. Banking on moments such as these to produce results is not viable, obviously, and Chelsea’s tactical approach to matches will have to evolve to maintain a shot at a top four finish.
The state of Chelsea’s squad is problematic. With John Obi Mikel, David Luiz, Eden Hazard, and Victor Moses unavailable, there is massive physical and mental pressure on their . The wear and tear of heavy usage is showing on their starting line-up in this match, and with no reinforcements aside from Ba, turning around their recent run of bad form could be a difficult task.
Furthermore, Rafa will need to find a method of play that does not rely on holding midfielders while none are available. Lampard and Ramires both pushed forward in attack, which led to an open midfield for Newcastle to exploit.
On the other side of the story, Newcastle have done well to reinforce a squad that was look anemic after being ravaged by injuries. Debuchy, Gouffran, and Sissoko all impressed in this match, and seem to gel well on the pitch. It is easy to make jokes about Newcastle’s influx of French players, but building a core of players schooled in the same footballing culture could prove to be an inspired notion.
Newcastle deserved to win, and should feel a renewed sense of optimism as their new signings look promising. Chelsea supporters will unhappily note that Rafa’s run of bad form is now worse than their run that ended Roberto Di Matteo’s tenure. With a tired squad, Europa League matches will do nothing to aid their chances at a Champion’s League qualification.
Raised in Seattle WA. Sounders FC, United States, and Liverpool supporter.
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