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LONDON: Eddie Howe said before the game that everything had to go your way if points were to be scored at Stamford Bridge – and he should know it, having won three times at Chelsea while at Bournemouth.
The problem is that nothing was done for Newcastle United on an ultimately proud but pointless afternoon in west London.
Newcastle did everything necessary to claim a point, if not all three, in the capital but came away with nothing as a late Kai Havertz winner sparked controversy.
Germany international Havertz can consider himself a very lucky man not to have been sent off for a deliberate nudge on Dan Burn in the first half – a challenge which saw yellow flashing, as red looked all at once. more appropriate.
VAR was no friend to Newcastle either in the second half, when Jacob Murphy was fouled not once but twice in the penalty area, only for referee David Coote to point the flag. corner rather than the place.
As they say, when you’re unlucky…
Howe hinted at changes following Southampton’s midweek victory – and changes are what he has brought, not just in the personnel department either.
A tactical adjustment to a 5-4-1 from the usual 4-3-3 has proven seamless for Howe’s Newcastle, which is cut from a different organizational fabric these days.
Injuries and illness are biting Newcastle, with skipper Jonjo Shelvey one of four players to be dropped from the squad, with the midfielder struck down with illness in the hours before the game. Elsewhere, Jamaal Lascelles, Miguel Almiron and Sean Longstaff all returned to the side. All of them turned out to be excellent deputies.
Eleven places may have separated the teams at kick-off, but that barely carried on the pitch as the Magpies clashed with their noblest opponents.
Intriguing battles burned throughout the encounter, with proven performer Ngolo Kante against young contender Bruno Guimaraes proving to be one of the standouts in the middle.
Chances were scarce for both teams in the opening period. With the Blues dominating in possession, the best of opportunities fell United’s way.
A Burn-flick header from a Matt Targett cross was as close as either side had come from breaking the deadlock, but the ball skidded onto the slippery turf at Stamford Bridge.
Almiron, who made his first start in 2022, also got the best of Edouard Mendy with a booming volley from 25 yards to close out a thrilling half of football.
The main topic of discussion in the first, as in the second, turned out to be the official use of VAR.
Havertz’s use of the arm, which opened Burn’s eye, during a first-half challenge was ruled a simple yellow card. Many reds were given for less serious offences.
Again half a few chances, fewer shots on target, but more and more questionable decisions ensued.
Again, it was Chelsea who could argue that they had the upper hand in proceedings after the break. However, two penalty calls framed this one.
First, Murphy had his shirt pulled and his leg cut off by Trevoh Chalobah. Coote was unmoved, however, as were VAR officials at Stockley Park, who felt the decision was not a clear and obvious mistake.
At the other end, what would have been a clear penalty, when Dubravka took down Timo Werner, was overturned as the leader was ruled offside.
Predictably, the Magpies began to retreat into their shell and the home crowd, silent until now, began to grow into the game.
Havertz threatened to break the deadlock when his header from close range only found Dubravka, the goal gaping. It was the Blues’ first shot on target, in the 76th minute – it’s a measure of just how frustrated the Howe Magpies frustrated their hosts.
But, where he was debauched before, he was in no mood to stare a gift horse in the mouth again. So when a floating ball from the Newcastle right was lifted into the area, Havertz disappeared from the back of Burn, the man he assaulted earlier, to bring down exquisitely and in one pass guide Dubravka powerless to seal an undeserved victory.
It was gross justice for the Magpies, who, to one man, gave every ounce to take something away from Stamford Bridge.
But that was not the case, as their nine-game Premier League unbeaten streak ended sadly and sadly with Chelsea surrounded, entrenched and emboldened.
While the Blues’ future without Roman Abramovich looks uncertain, one thing is certain, under the wing of PIF and Amanda Staveley, guided by Howe’s impressive tactical shrewdness, good things are happening at Tyneside, even if today felt like a dent in their short-term progress in the Premier League.