Toon dumped down to bot­tom three af­ter Blue day in Lon­don

Chelsea 2 New­cas­tle 1

Sunday Sun - - Football - Chris Waugh New­cas­tle United Writer [email protected]­

NEW­CAS­TLE United have slipped back into the rel­e­ga­tion zone af­ter the Mag­pies suf­fered a 2-1 de­feat to Chelsea at Stam­ford Bridge.

Pe­dro gave the Blues an early lead be­fore Ciaran Clark net­ted his third goal of the sea­son to pull the Mag­pies level.

But, de­spite New­cas­tle’s spir­ited fight­back, the Blues’ class even­tu­ally told and Wil­lian curled in a bril­liant sec­ond-half win­ner for Mau­r­izio Sarri’s side to con­demn Rafa Ben­itez’s men to an­other de­feat.

With re­sults else­where go­ing against New­cas­tle, the Mag­pies dropped from 15th down to 18th, and will spend the next week in the bot­tom three.

Here, NUFC Writer Chris Waugh takes us through what we learned from yet an­other de­feat for the Mag­pies...

1. A mid­field full of en­deav­our - but lit­tle cre­ativ­ity

With Ki Sung-yueng away at the Asian Cup, Jonjo Shelvey strug­gling with a re­cur­ring thigh prob­lem and Mo Di­ame ab­sent with a hip com­plaint, Ben­itez was forced to hand Acad­emy grad­u­ate Sean Longstaff his full Premier League de­but.

The 21-year-old was part­nered in mid­field by Isaac Hay­den, too, who is des­per­ate to leave the club this month, but has been blocked from do­ing so by Ben­itez due to the lack of al­ter­na­tives the Spaniard cur­rently has to select from.

Paul Dum­mett was also ruled out due to a ham­string prob­lem, mean­ing Matt Ritchie con­tin­ued at left­wing-back – but it was the bench which was most alarm­ing to read.

Among New­cas­tle’s sub­sti­tutes was a goal­keeper, four de­fend­ers, a winger in Ja­cob Mur­phy who Ben­itez ap­pears not to trust, and a striker in Joselu who has se­ri­ously strug­gled to score goals in the Premier League.

Few, in­clud­ing this cor­re­spon­dent, gave the Mag­pies hope once the teamsheet was re­leased and it cer­tainly high­lighted the lack of re­sources Ben­itez is cur­rently

THIS game showed New­cas­tle United for what they re­ally are: a de­cent team, but a frus­trat­ingly in­com­plete one.

A 2-1 de­feat at Stam­ford Bridge against a Chelsea team who have an out­side chance of com­pet­ing for the Premier League ti­tle is by no means em­bar­rass­ing.

But this was New­cas­tle’s eighth de­feat in eight ap­pear­ances against the top-six sides; the ma­jor­ity of those games have been close af­fairs, but on ev­ery oc­ca­sion the Mag­pies have fallen short of claim­ing a re­sult.

In west Lon­don, United were never re­al­is­ti­cally in a po­si­tion to win the game; but, just as Rafa Ben­itez had planned, they were al­ways within touch­ing dis­tance of nick­ing what could have been an in­valu­able draw.

Un­for­tu­nately, as has so of­ten been the case this sea­son, the Mag­pies lacked a clin­i­cal touch in the fi­nal third.

Op­por­tu­ni­ties did not ex­actly present them­selves in abun­dance, but Ay­oze Perez wasted a mag­nif­i­cent chance in the first half, while Sa­lomon Ron­don di­rected a header at­tempt­ing to work with. How­ever, New­cas­tle’s makeshift mid­field per­formed ad­mirably, with Longstaff and Hay­den har­ry­ing the likes of Jorginho and N’golo Kante forc­ing the home side to make mis­takes. Longstaff in par­tic­u­lar be­lied his in­ex­pe­ri­ence to put in a com­posed dis­play on his full top-flight bow, with the mid­fielder un­afraid to re­ceive pos­ses­sion, even when sur­rounded by op­po­nents. The prob­lem is that New­cas­tle’s en­gine room lack dy­namism and in­ven­tion. That is not a crit­cism of Hay­den nor Longstaff – it is just the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion. With a lit­tle more cre­ativ­ity, New­cas­tle may have found a way to claim a pos­i­tive re­sult, but it just proved be­yond them.

2. Le­je­une is ideal for a three-man de­fence - even if Clark cap­tures the head­lines Dur­ing the first half of the sea­son, the Mag­pies sorely missed Flo­rian Le­je­une – who was side­lined with a knee in­jury. But the 27-year-old re­turned in the FA Cup against Black­burn Rovers, and he was ex­cel­lent con­sid­er­ing that was his first ap­pear­ance of the cam­paign.

And, a full eight months af­ter his most re­cent Premier League ap­pear­ance against Chelsea on the fi­nal day of last sea­son, Le­je­une was back in the United XI at Stam­ford Bridge.

Make no mis­take, the French­man’s re­turn to the fold is one of the few pos­i­tives to have emerged dur­ing a mis­er­able last six weeks.

His com­po­sure in pos­ses­sion, the ae­rial threat he of­fers in both boxes, as well as his abil­ity to start at­tacks from cen­tral-de­fence, will make United a bet­ter team.

But, de­spite the im­por­tance of Le­je­une’s re­turn, it is Clark who will cap­ture the head­lines af­ter his ex­cel-

wide late on.

New­cas­tle’s mid­field in­jury cri­sis meant the Mag­pies had bags of en­deav­our in mid­field, if lit­tle in­ven­tion to break down a class side like Chelsea.

This United team also have char­ac­ter, at­ti­tude and workrate in abun­dance; that has never been in ques­tion.

But what they lack is gen­uine qual­ity in the fi­nal third.

Pe­dro and Wil­lian took Chelsea’s chances with aplomb, while Eden Haz­ard pulled the strings when he even­tu­ally started see­ing the ball

more dur­ing the sec­ond half.

The Blues were poor for the most part, but their top-class play­ers made the dif­fer­ence when it mat­tered most.

United, mean­while, rarely looked like scor­ing; even when they stole the ball, their play in tran­si­tion was laboured.

Mike Ash­ley was at Stam­ford Bridge to wit­ness this – his first ap­pear­ance at a United game since early-novem­ber – and, if he doesn’t re­alise now that in­vest­ment is des­per­ately needed to keep the Mag­pies in the Premier League, then he

■ Eden Haz­ard of Chelsea is chal­lenged

Sean Longstaff re­acts af­ter Chelsea’s 2nd goal

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