Toon dumped down to bottom three after Blue day in London
Chelsea 2 Newcastle 1
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