A wonderful goal from the much-criticised Willian was the perfect way to silence his haters as he provided the difference in Chelsea’s 2-1 win against Newcastle on Saturday evening.
First-half goals from Pedro and Ciaran Clark left the game finely poised for the Brazilian to leave his mark in what could easily be his last hurrah at Stamford Bridge as rumours surrounding his future continue to gather pace.
Maurizio Sarri set up his team once again without a recognised striker as Olivier Giroud had to settle for a place on the bench while Alvaro Morata missed out through injury. Callum Hudson-Odoi joined the Frenchman on the bench with Bayern Munich’s public interest hanging over his head.
The absence of a number nine clearly didn’t cause the Blues a problem as they managed to get their noses in front inside 10 minutes. David Luiz, inside his own half, had spotted the run of Pedro in behind the defence and sent a spectacularly-weighted pass over the top of the Magpies defence. Pedro raced onto it and just as Martin Dubravka looked to have got off his line quick enough, the former Barcelona wideman lofted the ball over him and into the completely empty net. A goal certainly not typical of a team managed by Sarri but welcome all the same.
Rafa Benitez’ side, on the other hand, were made to ride wave after wave of Chelsea attack as the hosts smelt blood of the black and white variety. But with very few clear-cut chances, as has been the problem this season, the visitors were able to engineer a route back into the game and with half time fast approaching, they found the perfect solution.
Matt Ritchie aimed an excellent cross towards the penalty spot from a corner where Ciaran Clark had risen between Antonio Rudiger and Luiz to power a header into the bottom corner. It had been coming for Newcastle and was, arguably, what their hard work in the preceding minutes had warranted.
Willian should have actually put his side back in front straight afterwards, from the kick-off, but he dragged a relatively easy chance a long way wide before a miss from Ritchie brought an entertaining first 45 minutes to a close.
Despite the quarter of an hour break, the game continued its fantastic rhythm after half time and Dubravka had to be alert to make a really smart down to his right to keep out Pedro’s powerful effort just 80 seconds into the second period. The Spaniard enjoyed his side’s next big chance but after being found in several yards of space on the penalty spot, his shot was tame and extremely comfortable for the busy visiting goalkeeper.
Chelsea weren’t made to rue that miss at all however as his attacking team-mate bailed him out moments later. A dazzling run from Eden Hazard carved open some space out on the left for Willian and after being picked out by the Belgian, he whipped a bending strike into the far corner of the net, courtesy of the post, to put his side back in front. His celebration was nothing over-exuberant but was one of pure relief.
He nearly added another goal to his season tally of just three in the Premier League but Dubravka was able to tip his chipped attempt past the post after a chance which was almost a carbon copy of the opener. From there, the quality that had been produced in the first hour of the contest had been drained and it began to take the shape of a scrappy mid-table affair (at best).
The tension inside Stamford Bridge could be cut with a knife as the game entered its final ten minutes despite chances being very limited for the side chasing the one-goal lead. An opportunity that Salomon Rondon should have done more with was about all the Magpies could manage as the Blues got back to winning ways at home in the league. Up next for them is a huge trip to the Emirates to face Arsenal next Saturday in the late kick-off.