Before Kick-Off

The mood coming into this match couldn’t have been any different for the two sides. Chelsea arrived with a great win at home against their London rivals Arsenal. Sarri seemed to have settled with the team, and his work on bringing the different style to Chelsea seems to have taken effect sooner than expected. On the other hand, there was Newcastle, who already knew they had a tough start to the season, and after a shocking draw at Cardiff, they would miss Kenedy in the fixture against his parent club.

Chelsea could finally start their full XI, even if Sarri said Hazard wasn’t fit, the boss put him on the pitch. Also, after their great partnership in the second half against Arsenal, Kovacic found himself starting for them. Knowing their history at St. James’ Park, Chelsea went full throttle against Newcastle and came here to take the full points.

Rafa had some problems for the line-up. Hayden was suspended after a red card against Cardiff. Shelvey and Lascelles found themselves injured in training. At least Yedlin was back for this with his backup, Manquillo, appearing to have picked up an injury in the previous fixture. This game saw Rafa go with a 5 back, something he had only done on a couple of occasions as Magpies boss. In the centre, the three backup defenders started, with Fernández playing in the middle.

Starting XIs

When Newcastle Had the Ball

The Magpies didn’t find themselves in possession too much. It never was their plan to be. As a connecting link was missing in midfield, Rondón found himself kind of isolated up front and had to show his hold-up play whenever a cross would get the ball to him.

Going forward happened most of the time out of a counter-attack, with Murphy or Ritchie going down the wing, hoping for a fullback to come up top, which would allow them to track a little more to the inside. Yedlin ran his heart out once more and Dummett, surely feeling more confident with an additional centre-back behind him, made some nice runs forward, which were sadly overseen most of the time.

The midfield wasn’t too confident this time around, and even when there were some promising passes by Ki, he and Diamé seemed to lose possession quite often or misplace passes more often than we are used to from our midfield. Whether this has to do with the pressure put on by Chelsea or missing quality will be shown in the future.

When Chelsea Had the Ball

Chelsea tried to play a fast, short-ball, attacking style of football. When they had the ball, they worked it down the Newcastle half, who then sat very deep to close spaces down. Diamé tried to put pressure on the midfielders and force them to lose possession.

The midfield for Chelsea worked very well, with Kanté enjoying his new role as a right midfielder. Also, Kovacic found his way into the team. The link between him and Hazard was slightly missing this time. Jorginho worked in the centre to keep the ball in Chelsea’s possession. He has always been seen as a classic defensive midfielder, and he plays that role close to perfection. He worked forward a lot, as Newcastle set back quite deep and tried to find ways through their first line of defence.

Going forward, Hazard clearly showed the most threat for Newcastle, continually walking by players and lucky to not find more holes to get a shot away. Morata, on the other hand, was invisible for the Chelsea team, which might have been the reason Giroud came on after about an hour into the match.

The play by Chelsea was not bad. Maybe they missed some creativity on the wings and the midfield, but it is understandable to get frustrated when you play against a well-organised, drilled team that sit back and defend most of the time.

Talking about defenders, Newcastle tried to avoid all attacking threats as long as possible. It wasn’t easy with two centre-backs who found themselves in the team for the first time. But Newcastle did well, and Clark seemed to have taken the step up to organise the lads around him. Yedlin, as we are already used to, was put a little more under pressure than, this game’s skipper, Dummett. The American had the tougher task to deal with as Hazard usually tried to find a way past him.

By the Numbers

Shots On Target23
Key Passes49
Pass Accuracy65%92%
Deep Passes Completed313
Dribbles Won27
Tackles Won2118
Aerial Duels won1213
Passes Per Defensive Action24.214.39
Expected Goals0.211.51
Expected Points0.262.57

Note: Stats are sourced from understat and whoscored.

How the Goals Happened

76’ Hazard (pen) (NEW 0-1 CHE)

After a goal kick by Dúbravka following a Chelsea corner, Chelsea won possession of the ball in their own half. With Newcastle positioned high up the pitch, this was a perfect opportunity for Chelsea to counter quickly. The ball was brought out to their left-hand side quickly by Kovacic to Alonso. After a quick one-two between Hazard and Alonso, who’s determined running brought him into Newcastle’s 16-yard-box where he was ultimately brought down by Fabian Schär. Chelsea were awarded a penalty, where Eden Hazard slotted the ball cooly into his left hand corner.

83’ Joselu (NEW 1-1 CHE)

A wonderful ball by Dúbravka found Yedlin down the wing who worked his way by Giroud and Alonso. Making it possible to get a cross away to Joselu, who found David Luiz sleeping for a second. The Spaniard got away with an easy header to set Newcastle level. With his second goal in three matches, the ex-Real Madrid man looks sharper than we’ve been accustomed to seeing in black and white.

87’ Yedlin (og) (NEW 1-2 CHE)

A stupid, unnecessary foul by Yedlin gave Chelsea a free-kick just outside of the direct shooting area, close to the Newcastle box. Willian took the ball to find Giroud on the left side of Newcastle’s goal, who then laid off the ball for Alonso. Marcos tried to find Barkley near the far post for an easy tap-in. Yedlin being in the centre of the box, slid in to block this low ball, but couldn’t prevent the ball from being pushed into his own net. An unlucky moment for the American who besides this action had a nice game.

Key Tactical Points

  • Hazard vs. Yedlin and Schär

Eden Hazard had 134 touches of the ball, nearly double that of the other members of Chelsea’s front 3 (Morata & Pedro). DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Schar (the right centre-back) had a combined 6 fouls between them. These stats alone suggest a narrative that Hazard dominated Newcastle’s final third, and that the defenders tasked with marking struggled to keep up.

The knock-on effect is that the rest of Chelsea’s squad had time to find soft spots in Newcastle’s final third. Chelsea had 434 passes in their attacking third, roughly equal to the number of passes in the middle third of the pitch.

There were rumours that Jamaal Lascelles if fit, was intended to take up the right centre-back spot. From this, it’s fair to say that Rafa Benitez was fully aware that Newcastle otherwise didn’t have a defend equal to the task of marking Eden Hazard.

While Hazard drifted centrally at times, furthering complicating Newcastle’s marking strategies, it is fair to say that Yedlin & Schar struggled mightily to close down Eden – thus helping Chelsea to retain possession in advanced positions.

  • Bystanders in Stripes

It is well-known at this point that Newcastle is quite comfortable ceding possession, in order to maintain defensive organization while breaking into space on counter-attacks. However, there is a fine line between ceding possession and having next-to-nil defensive pressure.

To illustrate this, know that Chelsea’s defensive pressure settled at around 4.4 passes per defensive action (PPDA). This means that Newcastle were averaging around 4 passes for every attempted tackle, interception, or foul from Chelsea.

The flip side of this was that Newcastle’s PPDA was around 24. Again, this translates into Chelsea averaging 24 passes before a Newcastle defensive action took place.

The cause is partially linked to Hazard’s danger – another is that Newcastle’s press was quite timid on this day.

Typically, when opposition crosses the halfway line, the Newcastle midfield will close down dribbles, and try to jump passing lanes. In rare cases, when the opposition is especially capable from a technical standpoint, the “anticipation zone” will push back to the final third.

However, on this day, there was little pressure, even in that attacking third. Mo Diamé has an established role of breaking formation and hounding passing triangles – but there was caution even from the Senegalese Heat-Seeker.

The knock-on effect from this was that Newcastle’s counter-attacks happened from the deepest positions on the pitch. If Mo knicks a ball in the middle third, the opposition is incredibly vulnerable to overloads in the counter-attack. However, in this Chelsea game, when Newcastle finally won the ball, there were usually 7-8 Chelsea players ahead of that person, and there was no Shelvey to launch pinpoint diagonals into space.

Man of the Match

Newcastle MotM: Ciaran Clark

Rafa set the team up to defend. This job was done, and besides some small mistakes, it was done well. Clark stood out in the backline. Besides being the most commanding defender, his positioning was spot on most of the time. He also had more passes and clearances than his 2 compatriots in the back-three. In addition to that, he was the only centre-back who did not commit a foul in this match.

Chelsea MotM: Eden Hazard

Hazard has always been Chelsea’s biggest threat. Offering a lot of options going forward, plus Sarri giving him the freedom to work his wonders improves their play. He might have misplaced some passes at times or failed to pick out the forward in the centre at others but he still created lots for them and stood out over the rest of the team.

In Conclusion

We can say, that this game was boring. The tactics of Rafa were destructive, and the goals were anything but special. We might as well have watched the Fulham match, but to take some positives away for the Magpies, we can say that the negative tactics close-to paid off. They showed that they could still structure a game plan around missing vital players, and especially Rafa showed that he still has surprised with him regarding the starting formation. Newcastle should take away Sarri’s post-match words:“I have never seen a Rafa Benitez side play with five defenders. I think it is very difficult to play here for every team – not only us. We were a bit unlucky when they scored to make it 1-1.” to not feel too negative about this matchday.