August 26, 2018
The temperature felt far too chilly 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 back in Serie A.
Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin hands points to Chelsea after own goal
Rafael Benítez 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 return flight to London with three wins from three Premier League games. They stand second in the table, behind Liverpool on goal difference.
At the end of an afternoon enriched by Eden Hazard’s bewitching skills Chelsea’s win was arguably deserved but it still took a disputed penalty and that own goal to secure the three points.
Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin hands points to Chelsea after own goal
Five at the back may contradict Sarri’s football principles – a philosophy otherwise known as Sarri Ball – but Benítez had no compunction about deploying three centre-halves in an uber-defensive 5-4-1 formation.
With his captain, Jamaal Lascelles, and the playmaker Jonjo Shelvey apparently injured this home starting XI featured debuts for Salomón Rondón, Fabian Schär, Ki Sung-yueng and Federico Fernández. Of that quartet Fernández, recruited from Swansea, shone at the back on what was turning into a day of denials.
In the morning Chelsea rebutted a report that Roman Abramovich wants to sell the club and, later, Benítez played down suggestions of a training‑ground row with Lascelles, reportedly over his refusal to offer his captain the sweeper role.
While the cool, wet conditions were sufficiently unpleasant to prompt Newcastle’s manager – who maintains Lascelles has an ankle injury – to suppress his inner Geordie and take the rare step of wearing a coat, Sarri ignored the rain in a lightweight tracksuit and Tony Pulis-style baseball cap.
The conditions were ideal for Sarri Ball’s intense pressing and high defensive line but, with Newcastle closing down Chelsea with minimal regard for preserving personal space, this visiting system was unable to operate at anywhere near like maximum power.
Sarri acknowledges his tactics carry “risk” but the downside of Newcastle’s ultra-cautious configuration was that it frequently left Rondón and friends looking far too timid to get behind that high line.
Benítez’s aim was to circumvent it courtesy of accurate counter-attacks yet on the two early occasions when Chelsea’s defence was breached, Jacob Murphy dispatched a cross into the arms of Kepa Arrizabalaga and then shot straight at the keeper when it would have been better to pass to his better placed captain, Paul Dummett.
Although Sarri’s players had the ball for 81% of the game 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 Hazard, making his first League appearance of the campaign following the World Cup, ran through a wonderful repertoire of dexterous ball manipulation, defender-spinning swivels and delicate touches but, tellingly, Martin Dubravka was largely underemployed in Newcastle’s goal.
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Indeed, while Álvaro Morata saw a shot deflected wide following a lovely one-two with Hazard and Pedro curved a miscued half-chance off target after dispossessing Ki, the best opening of the first half fell counter-attacking Newcastle’s way.
It came from a set piece and involved Matt Ritchie’s corner being half-cleared before being curled back into the box by Fernández. Rondón made a decent connection before dispatching a header wide when the West Brom loanee centre-forward really should have scored.
Had the unloved Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew presided over such apparently negative home tactics they would have doubtless been pilloried by Gallowgate Enders but Benítez can do no wrong – locals are convinced he is capable of walking on the Tyne – and, in truth, the coach who led Chelsea to Europa League triumph surely had his strategy spot on.
While permitting Hazard and friends to strut their stuff might 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.
With Fernández indicating Lascelles will have to fight for his place and even Hazard was unable to blow the black and white house down, things were proceeding to plan for a Benítez ensemble which menaced at dead balls.
Huffing and puffing on the touchline, Sarri began pressing every available tactical button and replaced the ineffective Morata and Pedro with Olivier Giroud and Willian. The visiting tempo increased and Antonio Rüdiger hit the bar with a ferocious 30-yard shot before Marcos Alonso collapsed under Schär’s penalty-area challenge.
Despite Schär winning quite a lot of the ball Chelsea, somewhat contentiously, enjoyed the benefit of what was probably a 50/50 refereeing decision. Dubravka guessed right but Hazard’s penalty was far too good and, finally, Sarri smiled.
It did not stick. When Yedlin swept past Giroud, temporarily filling in at left-back, the substitute striker protested that the right-back had elbowed him in the face. With such complaints falling on deaf ears, Yedlin crossed superbly for Joselu, who had replaced Rondón, to head an imperious equaliser.
Giroud did not stop scowling until Willian’s free kick was only semi‑cleared and Yedlin redirected Alsonso’s volley past Dubravka.
Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin hands points to Chelsea after own goal

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