Newcastle United lost their second home match of the season by the same scoreline as the previous one and, once again, my feeling was that it was a wholly undeserved defeat.

Arriving in Newcastle at 1145 after a fairly pleasant and incredibly dull (i.e. no alcohol) journey up from London, I was feeling confident that we’d get something from this match. Chelsea had started the season well with good victories over Huddersfield (doomed to relegation) and Arsenal (massive upheaval after 20+ years of Wenger) but I was sure that we’d be able to give them a good game and perhaps sneak a victory by a single goal.

We all knew Kenedy wouldn’t be in the side given the fact he’s still a Chelsea player but I don’t think anyone foresaw a United line-up without Lascelles or Shelvey and with Schar and Fernandez starting in a back line that consisted of 3 centre-halves. Ki in for the injured Shelvey in what looked like a 541 or 3511 formation meant that as we left the Trent the word that seemed to be most in use was ‘intrigued’…..the formation that has served the team so well since January was gone and in its place one that I don’t believe we’ve seen Rafa go with at United in the past.

However, it soon became quite obvious why Rafa set-up the side the way he did. Chelsea have some spectacular players, real worldclass, and so much of their game comes through the flanks patrolled fantastically well by Alonso (he of the blow dried 80s Princess Di hairstyle) and Azpilicueta (the world’s oldest yet still young full back). The 3 CBs tactic seemed to allow them to attack as much as they wanted from the wide positions but then as soon as the ball was stuck in the 18 yard area they were absolutely crowded out. There was a real lack of clear-cut chances throughout the first half and that seemed to be the tactic that United were following – let them have as much of the ball as they want but give them zero space where it matters. It worked a treat – aye, there’s an obvious argument we were unadventurous but the truth is if we went gung-ho against a side as good as this Chelsea one is, with the quality they have, would’ve picked us off.

 

Rondon started the game in place of Joselu and the graft our Venezuelan powerhouse put in was spot on and exactly what Rafa seems to demand of his main CF. His strength andability to shield the ball, lay it off and create space, whilst being more or less up against 2-3 Chelsea defenders, bodes well for the future – he has the intelligence and work-rate to get goals and I’ve no doubt he’ll prove to be an effective player across the full season.

There’s not that much to report from the entire match in terms of out-and-out chances. Everyone will have seen the stats – Chelsea with something like 80% of the possession but ultimately only 3 shots on target compared to United’s 2. One of the Chelsea shots (Rudiger’s) almost took the bar into the Leazes’ such was the power behind it. Benitez’s plan was to strangle them and the reality is that it almost came off – the Chelsea goals came from a penalty that wasn’t a penalty and an own goal from Yedlin. United scored a goal from an excellent Yedlin cross (admittedly after elbowing Giroud straight in the gyep) that was headed in with confidence from the much-maligned Jos. The equaliser brought those unbridled scenes of shocked joy that make going to the match worthwhile – the surreal experience you have when you’re celebrating but screaming at your mates ‘who the fuck scored that??’. I genuinely thought we were going to go on and win at that point. United had really taken the sting out of Chelsea, conceded an unlucky pen and equaliser  with a well-crafted goal.

 

However, no matter how well Rafa prepares, no matter how much effort is put in, no matter how well the debutants and first-time starters had played despite their lack of time together previously, it’s impossible to account or plan for own goals or refereeing mistakes. Additionally, on reflection we had 2.5 million from Hull City Mo Diame up against Jorginho and Kante (87 million combined), alongside Ki (free transfer from relegated Swansea) against Hazard (one of the world’s best players and who I thought was outstanding). We brought on Joselu and Perez. They brought on Willian and Giroud. I can’t feel too down after this defeat. We deserved at least a point, much as we did against Spurs, and all of the new lads played well.

Man City up next may well be a write-off, we might get nothing from Arsenal and we might have only 1 point from our first 5 games but I don’t feel any sense of gloom now and at the prospect of that. We’re playing ok, the new additions will settle-in and we’ll start to pick-up points. Howay the lads.

Norman Riley

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