A Tale of Patience, A Tale of Perseverance
Denied for two thirds of the game by a disciplined and stubborn Newcastle defense, it was a story of patience and, ultimately, quality that saw Chelsea extend their lead at the top of the table to three points. In an incredible display of territorial and possession-based dominance, Chelsea registered 79.2% of the ball across the 90 minutes. The Geordie faithful watched on as their heroes spent the majority of the game pinned in their own half.
The game began with a familiar tale for Thomas Tuchel’s charges. Against so-called ‘lesser’ opposition, the test for the tactical nous of the astute German coach is often how to prise open a deep defense. In the first half, Chelsea probed and probed but the Magpies held firm. Missing the progressive presence of Mateo Kovacic, ruled out at the last minute with a hamstring complaint, Chelsea looked slow and laboured in possession.
Callum Hudson-Odoi was a constant threat down the left. The prodigious talent drove and drove but found his path blocked at every turn. Edouard Mendy in goal was a virtual spectator as Newcastle barely threatened. In fact, of the six shots the Toon had in the game, only one was on target, such was the relentlessness of Chelsea’s press.
Wingbacks James and Ben Chilwell, significant attacking weapons under Tuchel, were high, wide, and intent on delivering quality the whole game. Yet, in the first half, such a deep defense and slow ball progression meant Kai Havertz cut a lonely figure up top.
Hakim Ziyech, starting ahead of Mason Mount due to the latter’s illness immediately pre-game, seemed the only one capable of picking the opponent’s lock. In a flash in the 29th minute, the Moroccan found some space and whipped a delightful finish into the top left-hand corner. A rightful offside flag ruled out what would have been a lovely goal. Four minutes later, he had another chance that he may have scored on a better day. Receiving a low cross from the right from James, Ziyech blazed over in the face of an open goal.
Second Half Supremos
Into the second half and it was clear that Ziyech cut a frustrated figure all afternoon. Several misplaced passes, sloppy mistakes, and an ill-timed challenge on Allan Saint-Maximin told a story of an immensely talented player whose season is yet to really get going. A double substitution by Tuchel in the 64th minute that saw the Moroccan and N’Golo Kanté withdrawn for Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek seemed to ignite the contest.
In the middle of the park, Jorginho picked out Hudson-Odoi on the left who drove at his markers, digging a teasing cross out towards the back post. It fell to James on his right. The Cobham graduate had the composure to cut inside onto his left and rifle a shot into the top corner.
In a manner akin to a boxer landing a swift left and right combination to deliver a knockout blow, so it was James again to get the second, with his right this time. The substitutes Barkley and Loftus-Cheek combined to drive at their opponents after a counter-attacking transition. After a blocked Loftus-Cheek shot was blocked sending goalkeeper Karl Darlow diving to his right, James fired the rebound on the volley into an empty net. Newcastle was out for the count.
Just four minutes later, Havertz latched on to a through ball, rounded Darlow and was tripped illegally. Jorginho dispatched the third from the penalty spot to round out a perfect trip for the visitors.
‘Only Team Responsible for the Intensity’
Tuchel’s comments post-match spoke to Chelsea’s patience in the face of what can only be described as delaying tactics by the home side. From minute one, the remit by the hosts was to frustrate, to waste time and to force Chelsea into a mistake.
The German tactician, though, showed his glee at the fact that his side were not bothered by Newcastle’s antics, and persisted in their gameplan. As much as Graeme Jones came up with a plan to deny his opponents for much of the game, it was the pressing, counter-pressing and dominance of territory and possession that suffocated the Magpies. This was a contest that Chelsea took ownership of and never seemed to wrestle control of, even if the goals took a while to arrive.
It seems incredible to think that 12 of the 26 goals the league leaders have scored this season have come from their defense, with James now top scorer on four. Tuchel noted the decisiveness of the wingbacks in his system, especially in an attacking sense. The goal contributions of James, Chilwell, Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso are crucial to Chelsea being present upon their lofty perch.
Reece James: Rolls Royce Footballer
That Chelsea was reportedly keen on Achraf Hakimi, then of Inter Milan, in the summer window appears outlandish now given the excellent performances of James at right wingback. As excellent and frighteningly quick Hakimi is, the Chelsea player is proving something that arguably didn’t need to be proved: there is already a wonderful right wingback in West London.
James’ ascendency to this position from the youth academy is down to his own hard work, talent, ability, and the seizing of an opportunity not often given to an academy graduate. With so much depth in his position at national team level, performances like this one by the number twenty-four will catapult him to the front of the queue.
Playing as a striker in his younger days, the breathtaking technique on both strikes was there for all to see. This is a special player that Chelsea have and one who they will no doubt look to hang onto for a very long time.
‘What Goes Around Comes Around’
It was a red-letter day for Chelsea as their three points came on a day when title rivals Manchester City lost, and Liverpool drew at home. Asked about this post-match, Tuchel was eager to express the need to ‘keep our feet on the ground’ and that ‘there is a long way to go.’
In as much as such results may be good for Chelsea, the mentality that the German has his team cultivating is an important one. Bad results and slip ups will inevitably come the Blues’ way. How they react to them will prove decisive in any title charge.
For now, the old football adage ‘attacks win you games, defenses win you titles’ rings true in the opposite way for the men in blue. It is very much the defense winning Chelsea games in both penalty areas right now.