It was Chelsea wide players’ day at Stamford Bridge in the tea-time kick-off, with Pedro and Willian finding the net with a goal for each to cherish, securing the team a much-needed home win.
Pedro’s came early, and owed plenty to the passing range of David Luiz as well as the scorer’s anticipation, speed and technique. In an interview just before kick-off, Maurizio Sarri explained a reason for selecting the Spaniard was his ability to attack space, and he did just that to make it 1-0.
Both sides missed a couple of first-half chances but Newcastle equalized before the break. A set-piece did the damage but a wonderful curling strike from Willian from out wide with two-thirds of the game gone restored Chelsea lead and proved to be the winner. After the frustrations of his multiple shots against the woodwork over Christmas, the Brazilian had his first league goal since late October.
He could have added another before the end but two goals by the team proved enough against opponents of limited attacking intent.
With Arsenal losing earlier in the day, there is now a six-point gap between Chelsea in fourth and Arsenal in fifth, ahead of our visit to the Gunners’ stadium for our next game next weekend.
Pedro in the starting line-up was one of three changes from the narrow defeat to Tottenham four days earlier, with experience coming back into the side. Eden Hazard continued as the central striker with Pedro taking the place of Callum Hudson-Odoi (who came on late in today’s game) and Willian on the other flank.
Mateo Kovacic, over a recent bout of illness, was preferred to Ross Barkley in midfield and David Luiz replaced Andreas Christensen in defence. Two of those selections would quickly pay their manager back.
The pre-match feeling generally was that Newcastle were likely to be defensive today, as they had been when Chelsea beat them up on Tyneside in August, and the five-man rearguard they lined up with did nothing to dispel that thought. Given that shape and Chelsea recent struggles in finding the net in home games, the value of an early goal could not be overestimated.
It duly came and when it did, the scorer was no surprise. It was the master of the early strike, Pedro, who has made a speciality of finding the net quickly in his Chelsea career, as has David Luiz with finding team-mates with a pin-point pass from the back. This evening those combined with just eight minutes on the clock and although the Newcastle defender who Pedro had nipped behind, Ciaran Clark, did his best to put him off his stride, the little Spaniard lifted the ball over Martin Dubravka to make it 1-0.
The next attack of real purpose came midway through the first half, when Cesar Azpilicueta charged on to a Pedro pass inside the full-back and continued his run towards the penalty area. He was clipped just outside of it by Matt Ritchie who was booked. David Luiz won the header powerfully from the free-kick but it flew just over the bar, possibly via a deflection.
On the half-hour, there was a sight of the Blues goal for Newcastle when Christian Atsu, formerly owned by Chelsea, squared a pass to Salomon Rondon but the big striker blazed off-target with, importantly, Azpi diving across to hurry him.
There was an even more presentable chance for the Geordies which was not taken on 35 minutes. A simple punt upfield by the keeper was flicked on by Rondon who beat David Luiz to the ball. Ayoze Perez was away but when his moment came, he sliced his shot badly.
In the 40th minute, Newcastle did equalize with the goal coming from a corner from the left, met by a thumping header from Clark who was between Toni Rudiger and David Luiz. He found the bottom corner.
The Blues could have grabbed the lead again almost instantly but Willian shot wide after a great Jorginho pass. The game had become end-to-end and lively, but the half-time score of 1-1, especially after such a great start, was not what the Stamford Bridge crowd had ordered. Chelsea had not capitalised on Pedro’s goal and had allowed our opponents a foothold in the game.
Pedro was almost the man quick out the blocks again at the start of the second half, but a very good save kept out his low drive. N’Golo Kante robbed Newcastle of the ball high up the field but the best Willian could win was a corner.
Chelsea defending was tighter throughout the second half than in the first, and on 55 minutes Chelsea passes really connected at pace down the left and it was a shame Pedro’s shot at the end of it lacked power. Unlike Willian’s a moment later which put his team back ahead and proved to be the winner.
Hazard did well in the build-up, with a typical turn under pressure and pass forward, but when Willian received the ball out wide on the left, he still had it all to do. Making half-a-yard inside before striking the ball, the Brazilian found the far side of the net with a curling spectacular. It was brilliant; one of his best! Think William Gallas’s famous winner at the same Shed End against Spurs in 2005/06, but from a little further in.
Willian was not far away from scoring his second with what would have been a goal similar to Pedro’s, but this time he did not put enough height on his chip to lift it over the goalie.
Still there was no way back for Newcastle, who have now lost their last seven matches at Stamford Bridge in all competitions.
Results elsewhere meant that Newcastle had slipped into the relegation zone ahead of the clash.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger, David Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic (Barkley 63), Pedro (Hudson-Odoi 80), Hazard (Giroud 87), Willian.
Unused subs Caballero, Christensen, Emerson, Ampadu.
Scorers Pedro 9, Willian 57.
Booked Jorginho 63
Newcastle (5-3-2): Dubravka; Yedlin (Manquillo 82), Lascelles (c), Lejeune, Clark, Ritchie; Hayden, Longstaff, Atsu; Perez (Murphy 82), Rondon.
Unused subs Woodman, Schar, Fernandez, Sterry, Joselu.
Scorer Clark 39
Booked Ritchie 24
Referee Chris Kavanagh