Saturday ended Chelsea 2 Newcastle 1.

Newcastle falling behind after only nine minutes but showing good character and determination to stick at it and deservedly equalise before half-time.

A class goal from Willian helped by slack NUFC defending deciding the game, as Rafa’s makeshift team were unlucky to come away without a point.

The Editor asked me beforehand to write about 3 positives and 3 negatives from the game, so here goes…

POSITIVES:

Solid performance

Despite suffering what was an inevitable defeat, this was one of Newcastle’s better performances of the season. As has often been the case in recent months, the back five performed admirably only to be undone by minor errors and lapses in concentration.

As with our recent defeats to Liverpool and Manchester United, Chelsea never needed to get out of second gear and didn’t have to exert themselves too much to seal the win but the big difference at Stamford Bridge, was in Newcastle’s ambition and threat going forward. We were genuinely in the game for the entire 90 minutes, fashioned a number of clear-cut opportunities and arguably deserved a point.

Despite failing to hit the target when presented with a couple of good chances, Salomón Rondón led the line well and brought team-mates into play and our untested midfield pairing of Sean Longstaff and Isaac Hayden covered a lot of ground, made numerous timely interceptions and played some good incisive passes.

Not quite ‘triumph in adversity’ but encouraging nonetheless to put in one of our most competent performances in months, against one of the league’s strongest sides at a time when our already flimsy squad was at its most threadbare.

Florian Lejeune

Having played his only first team football of the season so far in last weekend’s bore draw with Blackburn, it was a bit of a surprise to see Florian Lejeune thrown in at the deep end at Stamford Bridge, but the Frenchman hit the ground running and performed very well against tough opposition.

Lejeune was our best defender last season and his untimely injury in pre-season was a cruel blow that hit Rafa’s plans hard. Despite Fabian Schär and Federico Fernández putting in a number of impressive performances in the meantime, Lejeune’s absence has been keenly felt – not least because he has such a good understanding with Jamaal Lascelles and his presence raises our captain’s game.

With all his centre backs now fit and raring to go, it will be interesting to see what Rafa decides to do. Weaknesses in other areas of the squad mean that he will probably decide to make use of his relative wealth of riches in defensive positions and stick with a back five for the foreseeable future.

Lejeune’s selection here hints that he may well be the first name on the team-sheet from now on, leaving two positions up for grabs. One spot, surely, is earmarked for Lascelles as captain but there are no guarantees and Rafa has dropped him before.

Interestingly, a recent survey of nearly 4,000 fans on Nufcblog.com voted Fernández as our best centre back (37%), closely followed by Lejeune (34%) with Fabian Schär coming in third (17%) – Lascelles languishing in fourth place with just 11% of the overall vote.

Cardiff up next…

Our woeful home form notwithstanding, next week’s visit of Cardiff City offers us a great chance to get three points on the board and to start plotting our course to Premier League survival.

The fixture list has been particularly unkind this season with several runs of tough games meaning that we’ve had very little chance to build any momentum, bar our solid streak in November.

Man City and Spurs are up next after Neil Warnock’s side visit St James’ Park, meaning that even a win next Saturday is unlikely to offer us the chance of going on an unbeaten run and our momentum will be interrupted once more, but we need to view games in isolation and look at the bigger picture when up against our relegation rivals.

The drab draw with Fulham before Christmas was an opportunity lost but the silver lining was that we didn’t lose. Similarly, Kenedy’s last minute penalty miss at Cardiff back in autumn was hugely disappointing but we still came away with a point. In the grand scheme of things at the end of the season, not having lost these ‘6 pointers’ may well prove vital.

Although Cardiff have fared better so far than many may have imagined they would, a home game against a newly-promoted side theoretically offers us one of our best chances of a win all season. Here’s hoping that Rafa and the lads can take heart from their performance at Stamford Bridge and hit the ground running next weekend…

NEGATIVES

End of an era

Rafa’s quotes in the press in the lead-up to this match seemed to be tinged with regret and the prevailing sense of a golden opportunity wasted. He spoke of his desire to stay on and continue with the project but, reading between the lines, it sounded like he was confirming that he’s on his way out.

Little did anyone think when Rafa arrived back in March 2016 that it would end like this. One of the world’s elite coaches fell into Mike Ashley’s lap and spoke of his desire to build the club from the bottom up – it was more than we could ever have dreamed of. However, Ashley’s dereliction of duty has seen an ideal scenario turn sour and only Rafa’s pragmatism and conscientiousness have managed to keep the fans onside and prevent a toxic meltdown.

Professional pride means that Benítez won’t abandon ship before the season’s end, and a desire to ensure that his CV isn’t blotted with two relegations in just over three years, means that he will work tirelessly to try to avoid the drop – fortune and circumstance again favouring Ashley when he least deserves it.

Whether survival would, ultimately, be a good thing or not entirely depends on if a takeover ever actually happens – the smart money, sadly, being on Ashley staying in charge and hiring a washed-up manager like Mark Hughes or David Moyes to take the helm on his sinking ship, while Rafa heads off into the sunset, chastened by his dealings with our buffoonish owner. A sad end to what, at first, seemed a match made in heaven.

Conceding the first goal

Saturday’s defeat means it is now 11 league games so far this season where Newcastle have conceded the opening goal and then gone on to lose the match.

While we came back to equalise against Chelsea and actually played very well over the course of the 90 minutes, we still left empty-handed, just as we have done every other time that we’ve conceded first in the league this season – Matt Ritchie’s penalty-spot equaliser in our recent draw at home to Blackburn meaning that we at least managed to buck the trend against lower league opposition in the FA Cup. Regardless of how well they have performed in defeat, however, stats like this can only damage the players’ already-fragile confidence and undermine their hopes of pulling clear of relegation trouble.

The team are not without fight and determination – as shown by the fact that we’ve at least managed to equalise against Spurs, Man City and now Chelsea twice before ultimately losing – but Rafa will be keen to come away with at least a point from a game where we fall behind ASAP to help us build momentum and confidence as we head into the business end of the season.

Relegation Zone

Although they all remain within touching distance, Crystal Palace, Southampton and Burnley’s recent revivals have seen them pick up 10, 10 and 9 points respectively from their last 6 games to pull clear of trouble and leave Newcastle languishing in the relegation zone, a point behind our next opponents, Cardiff City, whose failure to beat Huddersfield at home was a bonus for us on a day when other results went against us.

With Man City and Spurs up after that, a win in the Cardiff game would be a massive boost to our survival hopes. With Huddersfield looking all but doomed and Claudio Ranieri’s arrival at Fulham not quite having the desired impact, two of the relegation places look like they may already have been decided, leaving Newcastle and three or four other sides to fight it out to avoid the final one.

While we all know that it’s your position in the table after game #38 that counts, failure to beat Cardiff next Saturday would mean that we’re hugely likely to be cut adrift from safety until at least late February – when Huddersfield and Burnley both make the trip up to Tyneside within four days of each other.

I think we all accept that we’ll be in a relegation dogfight until the bitter end but managing to keep our noses above water and hovering above the relegation zone, would at least be a big psychological boost for the players. Only a win next weekend will provide us with any respite.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Chelsea 2 Newcastle 1

Goals: 

Chelsea: Pedro 9, Willian 57

Newcastle: Clark 40

Possession was Chelsea 66% Newcastle 34%

Total shots were  Chelsea 10 Newcastle 9

Shots on target were Chelsea 6 Newcastle 2

Corners were  Chelsea 8 Newcastle 5

Referee: Chris Kavanagh

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Yedlin (Manquillo 82), Lejeune, Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie, Hayden, Longstaff, Perez (Murphy 82), Atsu, Rondon

Unused Subs:

Woodman, Joselu, Schar, Fernandez, Sterry

Crowd: 40,491

(David Pleat reviews the match HERE)

(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Chelsea 2 Newcastle 1 HERE)

(Match ratings and comments on all NUFC players v Chelsea HERE)

(Maurizio Sarri says his players thought it was too easy – Read HERE)

To feature like Kevin Christie submit your article to [email protected] and/or for more info go here



  • Paul Patterson

    If we can’t beat Cardiff (adding that to Fulham) at home then put simply, we deserve to go down . .

    • Big Al 1967

      And there in lies the problem. Fulham have one clean sheet all season which was achieved with ease against us. When Cardiff come and sit deep and put men behind the ball to gain a point we have no one capable of breaking it down.
      I hope I am wrong but it has 0-0 written all over it

      • Paul Patterson

        Sadly I feel you are half right. I often see the pessimistic side of things but even I didn’t see the bore fest that was Fulham at home.
        And traditionally, if the game has 0-0 written all over it, we tend to loose them . .

        • Kenny

          Chin up lads, all is not lost, Yet

          • Big Al 1967

            For me we need to be on at least 28 points by the end of February. 3 Big games at home ( Cardiff, Huddersfield and Burnley) with wins needed in the lot of them which bearing in mind our home form is a huge ask

          • Kenny

            I think the bar will be as low as 34pts to survive this season and as you say we need Max points from those 3 matches
            and remember last season we kicked on from Feb.

          • Wezza

            We all want us to stay up yes but then what? Next season then same and again.
            We need the FCB out.

          • Leazes.

            There’s a school of thought that a third relegation will get rid of Ashley because Rafa will go and so will 20k fans!

            I’d take that.

          • KRS1

            Sometimes to get rid of a disease you have to take some horrible tasting medicine. If Rafa leaving and relegation means we get rid of the FCB I am with you!

          • Steven05

            Me too. But I still have massive doubts. I don’t trust that they will be enough empty seats and really don’t know when the cancer will go.

            But he will go. One day, he will…

          • Mrkgw

            Generally agree with you Leazes (on other aspects) but, relegation would be a disaster for us as supporters. Places in the top tier are hard to come by. Granted we want the despicable out but I can’t wish our fall to oblivion.

      • KennyS

        My first thought was .. it’s going to be a draw, hope I’m wrong.

    • Kevin Christie

      Hard to argue with that!

  • Kenny

    Lejeune without doubt is our best centre back & as the article says Lascelles plays much better alongside him. the lads did ok in midfield but Newcastle`s achilles heel is up front & has been since the days of Demba Ba.
    Rondon can`t do it all by himself and the hapless Perez is hapless.
    The 1st Chelsea goal was schoolboy stuff with a ball just knocked over the top the 2nd was a World Class finish & Dubravka had no chance.
    sort out a partner for Rondon & we`ll improve but the problem is Fatso won`t buy a Number 10.
    For what it`s worth i don`t think the Rat cares if Rafa leaves he wants a pleb not someone who will rock the boat.
    Anyway don`t forget to renew your season tickets next month,
    you know Mike has you sussed.

    • Billmag

      Good post Kenny.

  • Blackburn1066

    We hang on a thread.

    • Kenny

      Every season

  • Leicester Mag

    A fan rang 5 live today and hoped Rafa resigned and we were relegated. Some if not most will think him mad and/or treacherous. To me he simply has reached a breaking point and said what we all must have felt. That it comes to speaks volumes of the cancer inside this club.

    • KennyS

      Two ways of looking at it, stay up and same old same old, go down and the twisted Ashley will make sure we stay down because this time he he wont give a monkeys either way.

  • Rabid Dog

    So… just so I understand… a positive from the game at Chelski is we play Cardiff next? You layzee arsse reporter.

    • KennyS

      😂lol

    • Kevin Christie

      Haha. Good point. I’m open to any other suggestions you might have….! Positives are so hard to come by recently that I had to broaden it out in recent months. So I kind of treat these articles as positives in the aftermath of the game, not necessarily from the game itself, if that makes sense.

      • Leazes.

        You could shove the positives where the sun don’t shine…. they are an aid to self delusion…. apparently our 4-0 loss to the mackems was a victory!

        It serves no purpose….tell me Kevin….what is the name of the person who asks you to write them….is it Mr Jensen?

        • Rabid Dog

          Exactly

      • Rabid Dog

        The headline is “3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Chelsea 2 Newcastle 1”.

        Playing Cardiff next week cannot, by definition, be included. It hasn’t happened and was not part of our defeat to Chelski. Ergo you lazy aarse.

        Of course you are open to any suggestions I have, because that would help your lazy aarse. There is no shame in saying that you can’t do something. Only shame in pretending you can.

        Don’t do it if you can’t.

  • pedrodelgardo

    Big positive was Longstaff, up against top class players and out numbered he didn’t look out of place once he got into the game and I think he tired later but for a while was as good as anyone on the pitch.

  • Down Under Mag

    Longstaff looked decent, got done by Hazard a couple of times but there are a lot more experienced players than him having that done to them every week so no disgrace there. Some of his passing was outstanding as well. Nice first start for the lad…gave a good account of himself.

    One thing that did stand out in the game though was Rafa’s shrug after we equalised. What was that all about? Looked like a manager who has become so fed up he knows it won’t actually mean anything. Well done Fat Mike, well done!

  • robbersdog

    Is playing Cardiff in our next game a ‘positive’? Given that it’s them or us for the third relegation spot, the pressure on us to get the win might be debilitating for some of our players.

    A win would be good; a draw would be very disappointing, but not a disaster; a loss at home to Cardiff would be utterly catastrophic. I’m really not looking forward to this game.

    • Kevin Christie

      Looks like it was a positive! :D