Chelsea are now comfortably ahead of Arsenal in the race for the top four, but their performance was anything but comfortable as they struggled past Newcastle in Saturday’s late kick-off.
Goals either side of half-time from under fire forwards Pedro and Willian were enough to secure the three points necessary to heap further misery upon Unai Emery’s Arsenal side, following their third loss in five away games against West Ham United earlier in the day.
Chelsea were out of blocks quickly and raced ahead within nine minutes as Pedro latched onto David Luiz’s ball in behind to lob the onrushing Martin Dubravka. As quickly as they started the game, however, Maurizio Sarri’s men soon enough sank into their typical air of ponderous complacency, gifting Newcastle a route back into the game through static off the ball movement, which allowed the Magpies to man-mark all over the pitch. Ciaran Clark was to be the man to make Chelsea pay when he headed in unmarked from a corner with five minutes of the first-half to play.
Despite persistent criticism of his end product, and rumours of him leaving for Barcelona, Brazilian winger Willian proved his quality to restore his side’s lead when he cut in from the left-hand edge of the box to curl the ball in off the post.
Relief was hanging in the air come the final whistle as Chelsea created very few chances to put the game beyond doubt, hanging on to move six points clear of Arsenal.
Here’s how we rated the Blues after the game.
Kepa Arrizabalaga - 6
Had nothing to do throughout, claiming a few dangerous balls into the area with confidence.
Cesar Azpilicueta - 6
Provided very little going forward but marshalled former Chelsea winger Christian Atsu well, limiting the majority of his play to cutting inside the Spaniard.
Antonio Rudiger - 6.5
Solomon Rondon only created one chance of note under Rudiger’s jurisdiction, he stepped out of defence well and a penalty claim against him was rightly discredited.
David Luiz - 7.5
Has provided assists for Chelsea’s last two Premier League goals, another glorious deep pass for Pedro to open the scoring. Went from no look passing to no look defending, as he let Clark ghost in and equalise. Overall however his passes were the most efficient route to goal.
Marcos Alonso - 6
Often pushed higher up the pitch than the likes of Willian and Pedro, he tried to make things happen but both he and his teammates were too static. With him pushing on so much, Newcastle inevitably enjoyed spells down the left-hand side of the pitch, dragging players out of position and opening up space in the centre of the park.
Mateo Kovacic - 5
Given his first start in a number of weeks, but instead of looking to impress, he was off the pace and offensively anonymous.
Jorginho - 5
His passing, a consistently impressive part of his play, was sloppy and in dictating the tempo his build up was too slow. A yard off the pace during the build up to the Newcastle equaliser.
N'Golo Kante - 7
He pressed high up the field and unlike most of his teammates his energy levels never flagged. Held a good attacking position throughout, setting up both Willian and Pedro to take the ball on in promising areas.
Pedro - 8
One of the few consistent scorers this season, his lofted shot ensured the Blues scored their first goal in three games at home. His movement and energy provided space and actually allowed invention to flourish in place of predictable cuts inside and stop start overlapping runs. Began to fade in the second-half, before being replaced.
Eden Hazard - 6
Struggled in the main to get on the ball, but when he did, he wriggled away from three Newcastle challenges to lay the ball into the path of Willian who curled Chelsea ahead for the second time in the game. As a false nine, he barely sees any of the ball and his ability is wasted in dropping deep to look for the ball.
Willian - 7.5
Wasteful on the ball, showing few ideas beyond shuffling the ball off to Alonso. Despite missing two glaring chances either side of his match-winning finish, it cannot be understated the quality he exhibited in finding the far corner from such a tight angle.
Ross Barkley – 5 Was either playing in line with or deeper than Jorginho – whose role is to sit back, and not look to push on with the ball. Despite needing to adopt more offensive ball carrying tendencies, he was instead intent with passing and receiving the ball over five or six yards.
Callum Hudson-Odoi – 5 Picked out by Luiz on a couple of occasions but he needed to watch the line.