LONDON: Eddie Howe stated pre-match that everything has to go your way if points are to be had at Stamford Bridge – and he should know, having won three times at Chelsea while with Bournemouth.
The problem is nothing did for Newcastle United in an ultimately proud but pointless afternoon in west London.
Newcastle did everything required to claim a point, if not all three, in the capital, but walked away with nothing as a late Kai Havertz winner caused controversy.
German international Havertz can count himself a very lucky man to not have been dismissed for a deliberate elbow on Dan Burn in the first half – a challenge which saw yellow flashed, when red seemed wholly more appropriate.
VAR was not Newcastle’s friend in the second period either, when Jacob Murphy was fouled, not once but twice in the home area, only for referee David Coote to point to the corner flag, rather than the spot.
As they say, when your luck is out…
Howe hinted at changes after the midweek Southampton victory – and changes are what he delivered, not just in the personnel department either.
A tactical adjustment to a 5-4-1 from the usual 4-3-3 proved seamless for Howe’s Newcastle, who are cut from a different organizational cloth these days.
Injury and illness is biting at Newcastle, with skipper Jonjo Shelvey one of four players to be taken out of the side, the midfielder struck down with illness in the hours before the encounter. Elsewhere, Jamaal Lascelles, Miguel Almiron and Sean Longstaff all returned to the side. All proved to be excellent deputies.
Eleven places may well have separated the sides at kick-off, but it barely bore out on the pitch as the Magpies went toe-to-toe with their loftier opponents.
Intriguing battles burned across the encounter, with proven performer Ngolo Kante versus young pretender Bruno Guimaraes proving to be one of particular note in the middle.
Chances were few and far between for both sides in the opening period. While the Blues were dominant in terms of possession, the better of the opportunities fell United’s way.
A Burn-flicked header from a Matt Targett cross was as close as either side came to breaking the deadlock, but the ball skidded wide off the slick Stamford Bridge turf.
Almiron, handed his first start in 2022, also brought the best out of Edouard Mendy with a booming volley from 25 yards to bring an enthralling half of football to a close.
The major talking point in the first, as with the second, turned out to be the official’s use of VAR.
Havertz’s use of the arm, which cut open Burn’s eye, in a first-half challenge was deemed to be just a yellow card. Many a red has been given for lesser offenses.
Again a half of few chances, fewer shots on target, but more and more questionable decisions ensued.
Again, it was Chelsea who could argue they had the better of proceedings after the break. However, two penalty calls framed this one.
First, Murphy saw his shirt pulled and leg clipped by Trevoh Chalobah. Coote was unmoved though and so, too, were the VAR officials in Stockley Park, who deemed the decision not to be a clear and obvious error.
At the other end what would have been a clear penalty, when Dubravka chopped down Timo Werner, was rolled back as the frontman was ruled to be offside.
As was to be expected, the Magpies began to retreat into their shell and the home crowd, quiet to this point, began to grow into the game.
Havertz threatened to break the deadlock when his header, from close range, found only Dubravka, with the goal gaping. It was the Blues’ first shot on target, in the 76th minute – that’s a measure of how much Howe’s Magpies frustrated their hosts.
But, where he was profligate previously, he was in no mood to look a gift horse in the mouth again. So, when a floated ball in from the Newcastle right was lifted into the area, Havertz ghosted off the back of Burn, the man he assaulted earlier, to exquisitely take down and in one sweep guide past the helpless Dubravka to seal an undeserved victory.
This was rough justice for the Magpies, who, to a man, gave every ounce to take something away from Stamford Bridge.
But it wasn’t to be, as their nine-game Premier League unbeaten streak came to a sorry, unfortunate end at encircled, entrenched, and emboldened Chelsea.
While the Blues’ Roman Abramovich-less future looks to be uncertain, one thing for sure is that, under the wing of PIF and Amanda Staveley, guided by the impressively tactically astute Howe, good things are coming on Tyneside, even if today felt like a dent in their short-term Premier League progress.
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