Chelsea escape Toon

Late own goal beats New­cas­tle as Sarri Ball’s per­fect record stays in­tact

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer - at St James’s Park Louise Tay­lor

The tem­per­a­ture felt far too low for Italy in Au­gust and the rain had a drea­rily English per­sis­tence about it but for, long pe­ri­ods, Mau­r­izio Sarri must have felt con­vinced he was some­how back in Serie A.

Rafael Ben­itez pre­ceded Chelsea’s man­ager at Napoli and, clearly re­mem­ber­ing that school­ing in Cate­nac­cio, very nearly suc­ceeded in chore­ograph­ing his New­cas­tle United side to a tac­ti­cally as­tute draw against pos­ses­sion-mo­nop­o­lis­ing vis­i­tors.

In­stead DeAn­dre Yedlin’s late own goal dic­tated that Sarri’s side boarded their flight back to Lon­don, with three wins from three Premier League games and stand­ing sec­ond in the em­bryo ta­ble, be­hind Liver­pool on goal dif­fer­ence.

Five at the back may be an anath­ema to Sarri’s foot­ball phi­los­o­phy - oth­er­wise known as Sarri Ball – but Ben­itez de­ployed three cen­tre halves as part of a rad­i­cal re-struc­ture of his team here.

With the cap­tain Ja­maal Las­celles and the play­maker Jonjo Shelvey not even on the bench, this home start­ing X1 fea­tured de­buts for Salomon Ron­don, Fabian Schar, Ki Sung-yueng and Fed­erico Fer­nan­dez.

Shortly be­fore kick off Ben­itez was forced to deny reports of a train­ing ground row with Las­celles, re­port­edly over his re­fusal to of­fer his skip­per the sweeper role, and in­di­cated that Shelvey was in­jured. With Chelsea re­but­ting a Sun­day Times re­port that Ro­man Abramovich is hop­ing to sell the club, it was turn­ing into some­thing of a day of de­nials.

In­tense press­ing

Sarri Ball is all about in­tense press­ing and a high de­fen­sive line but with a New­cas­tle side cap­tained by Paul Dum­mett clos­ing Chelsea down as­sid­u­ously, this vis­it­ing sys­tem was un­able to op­er­ate at any­where near like max­i­mum power.

Sarri ac­knowl­edges his tac­tics carry “risk” but New­cas­tle’s cau­tious 5-4-1 sys­tem of­ten left them look­ing far too timid to get be­hind that high line.

On the two early oc­ca­sions when Chelsea’s de­fence was breached, Ja­cob Murphy – deputis­ing for the Stam­ford Bridge loa­nee winger Kenedy – dis­patched a cross into the arms of Kepa Ar­riz­a­bal­aga and then shot straight at the keeper when it would surely have been bet­ter to pass to the bet­ter placed Dum­mett.

With the home pri­or­ity clearly be­ing stop­ping Chelsea, it would be an un­der­state­ment to say that Sarri’s play­ers dom­i­nated pos­ses­sion.

Yet although the Lon­don­ers had the ball for al­most 80 per cent of the open­ing 45 min­utes they were not per­mit­ted suf­fi­cient room for ma­noeu­vre to do too much of note with it.

Ad­mit­tedly, Jorginho was of­ten im­pres­sive at the heart of their 4-3-3 for­ma­tion and Eden Haz­ard, start­ing his first club ap­pear­ance of the sea­son fol­low­ing the World Cup, ran through a won­der­ful reper­toire of dex­ter­ous ball ma­nip­u­la­tion, de­fender-spin­ning swivels and del­i­cate touches but Martin Dubravka was largely un­der­em­ployed in goal.

While per­mit­ting Haz­ard and friends to strut their stuff made have made for a more en­ter­tain­ing spec­ta­cle, it would surely not have done too much for a New­cas­tle goal dif­fer­ence which, come the end of the sea­son, could po­ten­tially prove the mar­gin be­tween survival and rel­e­ga­tion. More­over, Ben­itez’ play­ers men­aced from set pieces.

Sarri re­placed the in­ef­fec­tive Mo­rata and Pe­dro with Olivier Giroud and Wil­lian and his side briefly raised the tempo.

Guessed right

An­to­nio Rudi­ger hit the bar with a fe­ro­cious 30-yard shot be­fore Schar sent Mar­cos Alonso crash­ing in the area and, some­what con­tentiously, Chelsea were awarded a penalty. Dubravka guessed right but Haz­ard’s kick was far too good and, fi­nally, Sarri smiled.

It did not last. When DeAn­dre Yedlin swept past Giroud, in­ex­pli­ca­bly fill­ing in at left-back, the sub­sti­tute striker claimed the right-back had el­bowed him in the face but the ref­eree ig­nored him per­mit­ting Yedlin to cross su­perbly for Joselu – on for Ron­don – to head an im­pe­ri­ous equaliser.

Giroud scowled. Or at least un­til Wil­lian’s free kick was only semi-cleared and Alonso’s vol­ley was di­verted into Dubravka’s net by Yedlin.

‘‘ With Chelsea re­but­ting a re­port that Ro­man Abramovich is hop­ing to sell the club, it was turn­ing into some­thing of a day of de­nials

PHO­TO­GRAPH: STU FORSTER/ GETTY IM­AGES

New­cas­tle United’s DeAn­dre Yedlin (fac­ing down) is help­less as his own goal wins the day for Chelsea.

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