Chelsea stretched their unbeaten Premier League run to seven games with a solid home victory over Rafa Benitez’s beleaguered Newcastle United side. With the Manchester clubs both winning, the title landscape hasn’t changed for Antonio Conte’s men but Arsenal and Tottenham both dropped points which will assist the Blues in their Champions League qualification endeavours.
Antonio Conte made four changes to his team that engineered a way past Swansea in midweek. Danny Drinkwater, Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta and Victor Moses made a return to the starting XI in what looked to be a classic Conte 3-5-1-1 Chelsea formation.
Much like Swansea in midweek, Newcastle set their stall out early with the defensive-looking, counter-attacking lineup that former Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez has become synonymous with.
Newcastle punish slow Chelsea start
Early kick-offs are notorious for being slow starters and Chelsea fulfilled that stereotype with a sloppy start that they paid for in the 13th minute. Newcastle enjoyed a sustained period of possession and when Marcos Alonso nipped in to intercept, he inadvertently directed the ball back to Thibaut Courtois. The Belgian was quick off his line to deny the on-rushing Mo Diame but the ball fell kindly to Dwight Gayle – who tapped home with ease for his second Premier League goal of the season.
The goal instantly spurred Chelsea into life and they began to use the impressive Victor Moses to greater effect; his cross found Andreas Christensen, whose header cannoned back off the post as the Blues started to turn the screw.
The returning Azpilicueta was integral to the Blues opening their scoring; his probing ball was only half cleared by the Newcastle defence and Eden Hazard ran onto the bouncing ball to finish on the volley past a stranded Karl Darlow. It was no more than Chelsea deserved for their response to Newcastle’s goal and the writing looked on the wall for the Toon.
Blues complete quick turnaround
In the 33rd minute, Chelsea had completed the turnaround: Moses toyed with Matt Ritchie on the right and his fizzing ball was nodded in by the lively Alvaro Morata for his first league goal in three games.
It was more of the same in the second half as Hazard and Drinkwater combined on a couple of occasions to cause havoc in the Newcastle back line and it was only last-ditch defending that kept Rafa Benitez’s men in the game.
It took until the 73rd minute for the nail to be hammered into the Toon’s coffin. Victor Moses was a constant threat all game and his direct running drew Matt Ritchie into a mistimed lunge and a penalty was the only decision the referee could make.
Hazard seals win with special Panenka penalty
Eden Hazard stepped up for penalty duty and his ‘Panenka’ penalty was perhaps a metaphor of the form the Belgian is in – scoring his eighth goal in nine games to ensure the three points were staying in West London.
Hazard could have had a hat-trick moments later but was brilliantly denied by Darlow, who impressed in the Newcastle goal as the game petered out towards the end – with both teams seemingly conserving energy for the busy festive period ahead.
Chelsea face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League in midweek before an awkward-looking trip to local rivals West Ham on Saturday lunchtime once again. Newcastle haven’t won a league game since October, a record they will be looking to correct next time out against in-form Leicester City.