After the result at the weekend, Chelsea’s game against Newcastle meant the Blues had a chance to jump into a top 4 position. With Liverpool losing to Leicester, a win over the Magpies would mean they’d be in 4th place – only 4 points behind 3rd and 2nd place Leicester, and Manchester United respectively.
Thomas Tuchel has enjoyed a fruitful start to his managerial career at Chelsea. With 5 wins and 1 draw in all competitions, as well as 5 clean sheets in the previous 6, Chelsea look completely revitalized. With important ramifications on the table, this game was crucial in gaining ground in the race for top 4. Once again Tuchel chose to stick with the 3 at the back formation, with a few changes that had fans questioning his methods.
Starting Line-up: Arrizabalaga; Rüdiger, Christensen, Azpilicueta (C), Hudson-Odoi (Out 78′), Jorginho, Kovačić, Alonso, Werner, Mount (Out 70′), Abraham (Out 20′)
Subs: Mendy, Palmieri, Kanté (In 70′), Ziyech, Pulisic, Zouma, Chilwell, James (In 78′), Giroud (In 20′)
Moving Callum Hudson-Odoi back to the right wing-back role where we originally saw him feature, Reece James was left on the bench. Finally, Kepa started in goal after his performance against Barnsley and Mendy was moved then to the bench. With Thiago Silva still out injured Christensen remained the starter, and Tuchel opted for Tammy Abraham to lead the line.
The first half started out quite well, the Blues looked sharp right from the beginning, and gave Newcastle trouble in defense. The Magpies did not sit as deep as was likely expected early on in the game. Instead they setup in a 5-3-3. out of possession in a mid-block leaving space behind for runners.
Early on in the half around the 2nd minute, a quality passage of play from the Blues saw Azpilicueta play the ball into Mount who laid off the ball to CHO on the right flank. CHO cut in and laid the ball off to Kovačić who switched the play to the left in space for Marcos Alonso to take a shot on target.
The shot was saved comfortably however it showed much of the space available to operate in which Chelsea could exploit, stretching the back line of Newcastle’s defense horizontally.
Soon after in the 6th minute of the game, Azpi had a chance from a corner won that was a strong attempt on goal. After a second consecutive corner was won from a header by Marcos Alonso, Mount played in the second corner in which Azpi made a run toward the near post.
The header was flicked onto the far post, where Dwight Gayle was standing and was able to clear the ball over the top of the goal. Had it not been for Dwight Gayle, it seemed likely Azpi’s effort could’ve resulted in a goal.
At about the 14th minute, Tammy Abraham was given a great chance to open the scoring for Chelsea. Kovačić received the ball from deep and skipped past a few of the Newcastle frontline defenders. He spotted an excellently timed run by Tammy Abraham as an option to play the ball over the top to.
Tammy took a great touch in stride to put the ball out in front of him. However while he was through on goal, Jamaal Lascelles recovered quite well and put in controversial tackle on Tammy inside the box. He slides from behind Tammy and just gets the ball although he may have went through Abraham and tackled him before getting the ball. Regardless, the decision of no penalty was the result.
However, Tammy did end up getting hurt after the challenge. Although he carried on until about the 20th minute, he never quite recovered and was limping the entire time while he remained on the pitch. As a result, Tuchel opted to bring on Olivier Giroud to replace him.
Around the 25h minute Chelsea saw another serious chance which could’ve ended Werner’s goal drought in the league. Mason Mount laid the ball off to Giroud who dropped deep and saw a switch of play to Alonso on the left side of the box.
Werner throughout this process intelligently positioned himself in the central gaps left open by the Newcastle defense, and got on the end of Alonso’s headed pass. Unfortunately, Werner was forced to lunge forward for the ball, and he was unable to drive it goalwards, putting his attempt just wide right.
However, it wasn’t long after when Chelsea opened the scoring. At about the 30th minute mark, Timo Werner played a pivotal role in opening the scoring. Christensen played the ball over the top and out wide to Werner who had dropped deep. Werner controlled the pass and drove with the ball down the line, slowing down and accelerating to beat his man on the left flank.
He fizzed in a ball into the danger zone directed at Mount, but the keeper got a hand to it and pushed the ball out. The ball however, dropped to Giroud who was well positioned for the second chance and had practically an open goal to bury the chance for Chelsea’s opener.
Shortly after, Timo Werner is presented with yet another opportunity to end his streak and extend the lead for the Blues. Kovačić once again with his excellent dribbling ability drove through two Newcastle defenders, played a beautiful 1-2 sequence with Giroud to beat another man, then delicately played the ball just above the ground and through to Werner. Werner took this chance first time, and made good contact on the effort, but unfortunately lifted the ball just too much to go over the crossbar.
However, Werner did finally end his drought in the game. After having won a corner around the 38th minute, Mason Mount delivered a ball over the top into the box. On its way, the ball missed Giroud, and bounced off a couple Newcastle defenders, and fell to the feet of Werner at the far post.
The ball was hit just over the line, and although the goal was scrappy, a nervy VAR check resulted in the confirmation of the goal and Timo was thrilled to finally get on the score sheet.
After this point in the game, a couple more chances which did not result in goals occurred. Around the 41st minute, Mount took an audacious attempt from the right half space on his weaker foot. He struck the ball very well with power, but the effort went wide and did not trouble the keeper.
Newcastle just before halftime began to become more aggressive in their press, slightly causing Chelsea to struggle, however just around the 46th minute after a Chelsea corner, Newcastle defended well and looked to break quickly. The transition was cut out by Alonso who quickly found Mount open in the left side of the box for a shot which he dragged wide right.
Overall, the half was quite dominant by Chelsea. They defended excellently and barely allowed Newcastle opportunities in the first half if any. In addition to being able to play through their press, they were able to create loads of chances, and potentially could’ve scored more had all their chances been taken.
The second half however, was not as impressive. Newcastle adjusted their intensity at halftime and made it a point to apply pressure on Chelsea’s midfield pivot. This resulted in a more difficult process when trying to build out from the. back.
Early on their aggression paid off as they got an opportunity after winning the ball from a blocked pass off Azpilicueta. Saint-Maximin played the ball won into a central position to Isaac Hayden, who took a shot that deflect onto goal for a simple save by Kepa.
Soon after Newcastle won a free kick in a dangerous area. Jonjo Shelvey lined up to take the free kick and struck the ball with a lot of power.
However, Kepa’s form was good today and he was equal to the chance. He reached the shot quite easily and held onto the attempt to disallow any second chance opportunities.
The next 20 or so minutes no substantial opportunities were created. Chelsea tried attacking Newcastle’s box, however had trouble in really breaking down their opponent as they did in the first half. At about the 64th minute, Kovačić once again was involved in carry the ball from deeping while evade a few Newcastle players in the process.He. drove forward with the ball and laid off a great pass out wide in the path of CHO who fizzes a ball in, but is cleared for a corner.
Shortly after, Timo Werner dropped deep on the left side of the pitch and played the ball centrally to Jorginho. Jorginho played Mount on the right, who then drove forward with the ball into the opponent’s box and laid off the ball to CHO who was overlapping.
CHO played the ball across the face of goal and between many Newcastle defenders. Unfortunately, no Chelsea player is able to get on the end of the opportunity and the ball ran through.
This was Mount’s final involvement as he was replaced in the 70th minute by N’Golo Kanté who added a third man to the Chelsea midfield. Very soon after, a ball which was played over the top to Werner results with him inside the Newcastle box. However, Lascelles once again the culprit, put a slight shove on Werner who tried to control the ball and Werner fell over. After review once again, the decision was no penalty.
Finally, the last substantial chance of Newcastle resulted around the 74th minute, with Joe Willock. After a throw in for Newcastle, they attempted to attack Chelsea who were looking to defend deeper and see the game out. Newcastle had been constantly playing deep crosses from wide areas into the box hoping to score off these opportunities. Ryan Fraser who had come on later in the game whipped in a ball from deep into the box.
Willock made an excellent diagonal run into the box, elevated over multiple Chelsea defenders for an excellent headed attempt which was goal bound. Once again, Kepa was quick to react in the situation, and got a strong hand to the ball to push it wide.
After this point, in the 78th minute Reece James replaced Callum Hudson-Odoi and the game was seen out by Chelsea to hold onto the clean sheet and win their 4th game in a row in the league.
Brief Tactical Overview:
Chelsea with the ball were often looking to play through the press of Newcastle, utilizing Jorginho and Kovačić heavily in the first half. Additionally, the wide defenders would also often progress and play the ball into either one of the dual 10s or wing-backs if playing through the middle was not available for them to then create attacks at the opponents box. In the second half, once the press became more intense from Newcastle, Chelsea adjusted by having a man from the front drop deeper and add more numbers to the midfield as further passing options.
Without the ball, Chelsea’s front line pressed well trying to close down opponents very quickly. They were intense and with purpose, while heavily utilizing the dual 10s and mids to create wide overloads and pin the opponent in wide areas with no options. In the second half, the intensity of the press dropped off as time went on, as the team geared more towards game management and holding the clean sheet. As a result, they opted to hold their shape and defend a bit deeper for better anticipation of Newcastle’s crosses.
Positives and Negatives:
In the first half, Chelsea did well in playing through the press of the front 3 press using the midfielders to play between lines and progress the attacks. Kovačić was especially excellent in this regard, as his dribbling and beating players allowed the Blues us to take on the back line, and his passing decisions and execution were very sharp. Additionally, Chelsea were very strong in the buildup. Often they were able to play from the left to evade the press, then switch the play to the right using either Jorginho or Kovačić who linked up with Mount or CHO on right to drive the attack.
In the second half this became more of a struggle, however the adjustment of dropping players deeper as outlets allowed Chelsea to better cope with the additional pressure placed on the midfield pivot. Finally, Chelsea created a number of chances this game from corners as a result of well timed and angled runs in the box (Azpi), intelligently positioned players (Werner), and excellent services (Mount).
Chelsea did also have areas in which they would have improved on. At times, playing around the back too much especially after the press from Newcastle picked up. This resulted in playing the ball between the central defenders excessively at times and led to a few chances for Newcastle. Although the Blues scored two, they created plenty of chances and possibly deserved more. More chances could definitely have been taken and should improve to kill off games earlier and more convincingly (Timo a couple chances and Mount one before half).
More particularly in the second half, Jorginho losing the ball not being able to deal with aggressive press from Newcastle was definitely an area of concern to think about for future opposition which press more effectively. Finally particularly in the second half, final balls also could have been better after playing through the press and on transition chances.
Implications and Next:
Chelsea now sit in 4th, level on point with West Ham but ahead on goal difference. Although a few clubs in the below positions have a game or two in hand, Chelsea are very much in the driver’s seat for their top 4 destiny. With about 14 games to go, Chelsea’s next run of fixtures show to be difficult ones.
Playing Southampton in the league next on the weekend, this would be the first time Chelsea face an intense pressing side under Thomas Tuchel. Therefore, it will be an interesting showcase of how the team adapts and the selection/formation he opts for. After this, Chelsea have Atletico Madrid in the UCL, and Manchester United and Everton in the league, as their next three fixtures. After these next few games, Chelsea fans should get a better understanding of where Tuchel’s Chelsea stands and what to expect.