Chelsea’s run of six wins on the bounce was halted, as they were beaten 2-0 by a resilient Newcastle United side. Jose Mourinho has never won at the Sports Direct Arena, and his Chelsea side never looked like ending that hoodoo in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off.
The Blues were comfortable in possession in the first half, but aside from a John Terry header hitting the bar, they were unable to provide any clear-cut chances. The home side did not fare much better, but as the score remained 0-0 with an hour gone, they began to surge forward with renewed vigour. A Yohan Cabaye free-kick was perfectly placed for Yoan Gouffran to head home the opening goal.
Chelsea stirred slightly at this point, but Samuel Eto’o, on for Fernando Torres, was unable to make any of his four shots count. The death knell for any hopes of a turnaround for the visitors sounded when Loic Remy kept up his fine goalscoring form with a superb strike off the inside of Petr Cech’s near post.
Chelsea suffered their second away defeat of the season, squandering the chance to go top of the Premier League in the process. There are plenty of lessons for the Blues to take from this result, as they switch their attention to their Champions League clash with Schalke 04 on Wednesday.
Chelsea were overflowing with confidence before this game. Eto’o had spoken of their ambition to win the quadruple and the collective belief that this was an achievable goal. They were on a run of six wins and a nine game unbeaten streak, and even the most ardent Newcastle fans were sure that Chelsea would get a result.
That belief appeared to seep through to the Blues’ players, as they ambled around the pitch for the first 45 minutes. Sloppy passes and blind back-heels characterised a side that lacked any real drive to win, and they paid the price in the second half.
Chelsea had 61 percent of the possession at the Sports Direct Arena. Despite this, their inability to create clear-cut chances for their attacking players spurred the home side on. The Magpies were rewarded after 63 minutes, and although Chelsea mounted a half-decent response, it was too late to rescue the game.
Last season, the Blues found their best form away from Stamford Bridge, but they will need to improve on their performances on the road if they are going to challenge for trophies this year.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said before the game that their primary objective was to stop Chelsea getting in between their lines. They certainly succeeded on this count, as the Blues were frequently thwarted on the edge of the Newcastle box.
Chelsea could not find their rhythm, as the home side made 19 interceptions and 10 tackles to keep their fifth clean sheet of the season.
Frank Lampard was rested for Chelsea’s midweek trip to Arsenal but returned to start in Newcastle. Mourinho seems to prefer pairing him with Ramires rather than the more defensive John Obi Mikel, and Lampard is still adapting to his deep-lying playmaker role. His passing was a woeful 76 percent accurate, and he seemed confused as to what his overall role is within the side.
He certainly has the experience and attitude to be able to adapt, but he will certainly need to improve on his recent performances if he is to avoid a lengthy spell on the bench.
The glaring omission from Chelsea’s performance today was any sort of fighting spirit. In their best performance of the season so far in the UEFA Super Cup match against Bayern Munich, there was a determination about the side that made it clear they would never say die. In Newcastle, they reverted to the overly polite “after you” approach to attacking and misplaced 93 passes.
Supporters would much rather see their players clatter into each other chasing down the same ball rather than leaving it to be picked up by the opposition. There were still moments of brilliance, and some of the passing in the middle third of the pitch was excellent, but they lacked ambition going forward and suffered for it.
Talks of a crisis at Chelsea earlier in the season were prompted by two losses and lacklustre performances, in a row. Mourinho himself said that they did not deserve to win against Newcastle and that he will need to analyse what went wrong in order to recover (per chelseafc.com).
The Blues welcome Schalke 04 to Stamford Bridge in the Champions League on Wednesday, leading the German side in Group E on goal difference alone. The events of last November will live long in the memories of Chelsea fans, as a solitary win from seven games saw them become the first defending champions to fail to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League.
This poor run of form as winter sets in has become something of a theme.
Since 2009, they have won six, drawn five and lost six of their games played in November. Mourinho will be looking for an immediate response from his players if he is to buck this disappointing trend.