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Newcastle 0 Chelsea 3 : The Nightmare Before Christmas

1 month ago
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Happy Halloween. A time to remember those who have departed and a time to prepare for colder, darker times.

Mike Ashley has departed and I am delighted about that, even if I have significant moral reservations about those who have replaced him.

Steve Bruce has gone and I am delighted about that too, even if I have significant footballing reservations about those who have replaced him.

So I am delighted about that bit and more than happy to forget those who have departed. Now it is time for the second bit, preparing for colder and darker times. No more Cabbages, a time for Turnips, Pumpkins or any other root vegetables available to you on the empty supermarket shelves.

It might get colder and darker in the short term at Newcastle United but it is difficult to envisage a bleaker game of football to have to suffer than that ‘match’ of Newcastle 0 Chelsea 3 on Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, there are many times I have come away from watching our heroes muttering that on the pitch it has never been worse than this. Some of those times have been recent, very recent, but what I saw on Saturday was as bad as anything I can remember.

The Nightmare Before ChristmasThat we went into this Chelsea game with the same line-up as last week’s ineffective and fortunate draw with Crystal Palace was depressing. Jones had his reasons for playing the team he did against the Eagles and I accepted it on the premise that he was the man who knew and who was I to say differently. Jones has no baggage, no history with me, I am happy to give him some rope.

Having watched that game in London, I can see no reason why those eleven players kept their places. The only reason would be a lack of potential replacements but that obviously wasn’t the case. There was £90million worth of attacking talent (ok, maybe not the right word) on the bench against Chelsea, significantly more investment than was on the pitch.

Football doesn’t always come down to money but even so, I didn’t buy my house and decide to live in the car. In fact, the nine players on the bench cost approximately double what the eleven players who started the game cost. Just an observation to ponder. And our best defender didn’t even make it onto the bench. Answers on a postcard to…..

All of that is just about NUFC.

Teams are picked for many reasons, some are about your team, others are about the opposition. What about changes to counter a completely different threat from the team we were facing last week? Palace go through the middle with a big target man who thankfully missed most of the chances he had.

Chelsea are different, completely different, without their battering ram target man who doesn’t miss most of his chances. Without his deputy striker who plays a different game based on movement. Without the superb but fragile Pulisic who gives Chelsea their only real creative x-factor, the one who is likely to do something different, without Mount who adds drive and energy to their attacks.

Don’t get me wrong, Chelsea were still a team packed with top class players (and Jorginho) but they were a different team to their normal team and a different team to last week’s Palace. On that basis, a change in personnel or tactics in black and white would have been expected. But no. A week of preparation and for what? United were slightly better this week at closing the space on the wings and pushing the midfield wide to prevent easy wide possession for the opposition. That was it. The only benefit to a week’s training. A bit better at closing down space in about twenty yards of the pitch. The negatives? Well, where do we start. Perhaps that no thought was given to how to actually attack on the off-chance Chelsea gave us the ball back. Let’s face it, we never really tried to get it back, we only got it when they gave us it back.

Chelsea attacked like a Computer Program. They moved the ball around into areas where gaps appear and then threaded the ball through those areas. If the gaps didn’t appear in front of them, they were capable of an accurate ball over the top of our defence. If this happens do this, else do that, loop, end when score. No unexpected results. It was very effective, but it isn’t very creative. It is easy to see why disorganised teams concede loads of goals against them. It is equally easy to see why disciplined defences like MC and Juventus didn’t concede. Chelsea don’t have a lot of unknowns about them. They just do what the program says. If it doesn’t work, well then it doesn’t work. Send it back for analysis. No Plan B. Plan A is enough. It has to be, that’s all there is.

Windows Blue Screen‘Newcastle United attacking plan’

NUFC on the other hand had no attacking Plan A.

Chelsea are a good team and strong defensively and it looked like United’s best hope of scoring goals was to isolate the top notch but ageing Thiago Silva on the ground. Allow Rudiger and Christensen to move forward and have ASM and/or Wilson run from the half-way line at Silva with a long ball played first time into the channels. Not much to work on, nine men behind the ball, get it and play it into the channels in the Chelsea half for the fast players to run onto against the old fella. 10% possession would be enough. All of it effective. If Chelsea don’t want Silva isolated, they can leave more defenders back. That’s fine. Harder for their defenders to attack, more gaps between their defence and midfield, further for their defenders to run if they do get caught too far forward. Basic stuff. Negative, yes. Defensive, yes. But it is a plan. It is better than nothing, which is what we had.

The first half to me was more depressing than the second. After an initial ninety seconds of intent resulting in a Fraser cross-shot which was neither, Chelsea kept the ball and created chances. Not many and not great chances but enough to have been ahead during the break. Ziyech scored a heart-in-mouth offside goal which looked miles offside but so did Harry Kane last time out. Ziyech also put one over the bar at the back post when he should have scored but didn’t. That it was 0-0 at half time led to the myth that United were “in this game” at that stage but the reality was that United were never “in this game”. Those in black and white simply occupying the same pitch as the team that would eventually win comfortably.

There was a brief flurry of activity at the start of the second half. Having seen what NUFC were like in the first half, Chelsea knew they could comfortably take more risks. They had been touchy-feely in the first half but the change at the start of the second half was immediate.

Jorginho dropped back in front of the back three. Kante, Ziyech, Chilwell and James pushed up to a front six. That briefly gave United some space to run into and at last we started to see some attacks. It didn’t last more than a couple of ASM runs, a couple of crosses and corners and a couple of Chelsea bookings.

The Blues responded by adjusting, then removing the booked players and bringing on more attacking intent. It looked at that time like NUFC would counter that with similar substitutions to last week but like last week, Jones left his subs standing on the touchline, this time presumably to look at how the Chelsea subs would change their shape. Last week it worked. This week it didn’t. It is possible that Ryan Fraser was distracted by his imminent replacement and lost concentration. It is more likely that he was simply continuing the headless, positionally inadequate and lacking in focus performance he had given for the previous 65 minutes. Reece James smashed in a lovely strike with his left foot from about twelve yards on the angle. Game over.

Scooby Doo‘If NUFC v Chelsea was a cartoon, this is what it would look like’

Fraser and Hayden left the building. Hayden looked wrecked and had been booked. Fraser ran off with all the enthusiasm of a stag do on a fifteen hour bender running into the Med from a bar on Benidorm beach. Almiron came on, Willock limped on. Reece scored again, an equally excellent strike, this time into an open goal. A shot deflected back to the England defender, Karl Darlow seemingly running into the Milburn Stand to collect the first effort. Shelvey was lightly booed on as Longstaff went off. Longstaff was visibly frustrated by United’s ineptitude, which was nice, so were we. As he kicked off after the second goal you could see him shouting to the other players something along the line off “why am I passing the ball back to Darlow from the kick off, he has the worst distribution out of any of us. Why isn’t someone better standing there to pass to?” Everyone ignored him. Presumably someone said “who knows?” Hopefully no one said “who cares?”

There was time for Darlow to pointlessly trip Havertz for show-pony Jorginho to score a late penalty. It might have been better for the referee to send Darlow off at that point, thus relieving whichever shirker is in charge of picking the team next week the task of telling Darlow he isn’t playing. He shouldn’t be playing next week. He no longer has any obvious qualities in goal. His distribution is worse than the ballboys and girls (ball-people? Assistant balls?), his time-wasting is embarrassing even to his own supporters and the question marks are starting to mount up about the goals he concedes.

He wasn’t alone. While the defence held their shape and put their shift in, it would be Christmas rather than Halloween if I was to gift them any praise. This five at the back nonsense has to go. It was a policy which Rafa adopted because he had a lot of centre halves who were playing consistently well so it made sense to get more of them on the pitch. On the other side of the coin, he had very few attacking players of the required quality so Plan A was keep a clean sheet and see. It wasn’t pretty. I also believe that Rafa knew it wasn’t long term, it was just wearing the correct shoes on the correct feet given the weather.

That it is still a policy when the likes of a £20million winger, £25million attacking midfielder and £40million str…, wi… Brazilian are on the bench is just plain madness. If the next manager wants to pack something, other than his suitcase just in case he doesn’t last long, he can pack the midfield with expensive players full of energy and motivate them to get the team out the hole by attacking with the ball at their feet. Seems better than asking journeymen defenders past their sell-by date to see out 90-odd minutes of intense pressure against super-talented opponents every week. I have a lot of time for those defenders’ past contribution and ongoing endeavour, but it has to end. Hopefully those in front of them can at least match their effort. They didn’t against Chelsea. Most of the midfield and forwards (in name only) breezed through it like it was their weekend prinks.

I can’t remember the moment Wilson gave up, probably at 0-2 when the rest of the team did. Maxi had given up after about ten minutes. He was a passenger on Saturday. If they are not going to play him in a position or formation to bring out the best in him, it is probably best not to play him at all. If the only tactic is to defend with eleven men, better off playing eleven men who can defend. I don’t want that. I am just saying that if you are not interested in attacking, why bother sapping the legs and confidence of people who do it. Might as well play Fernandez and Schar up front instead.

Chelsea manager Tuchel tried to keep the smirk off his face while spilling out some easy guff about it being difficult, patience being the key and some mythical time when Chelsea had to work hard off the ball:

“I’m absolutely happy today with our performance off the ball. This was the key for me from the first minute to the last, the effort and discipline.”

Through the medium of clairvoyance Steve Bruce said:

“We are in a relegation battle. There’s no question about that. We need to face it like men, stick together and believe we’ll come through.”

Undoubtedly so – but belief won’t be enough. Some sort of idea is also required. Happy Halloween. This may not be a Nightmare Before Christmas. Newcastle United need an Exorcist.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Newcastle 0 Chelsea 3 – Saturday 30 October 3pm

Goals:

Chelsea

James 65, 77 Jorginho 81 pen

Newcastle:

Possession was Chelsea 79% Newcastle 21%

Total shots were Chelsea 19 Newcastle 6

Shots on target were Chelsea 6 Newcastle 1

Corners were Chelsea 2 Newcastle 0

Referee: Paul Tierney

Crowd: 52,208 (Chelsea 3,200)

Newcastle United:

Darlow, Manquillo, Krafth, Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie, Hayden (Almiron 67), Sean Longstaff (Shelvey 81), Fraser (Willock 66), Saint-Maximin, Wilson

Unused Subs:

Dubravka, Joelinton, Schar, Lewis, Murphy, Gayle

(Alan Shearer tells it how it is after Chelsea win 3-0 – Newcastle United fans react to his comments – Read HERE)

(3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Newcastle 0 Chelsea 3 – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 0 Chelsea 3 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 0 Chelsea 3 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Saturday’s dismal defeat – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 0 Chelsea 3 – Key thoughts from the game – Read HERE)

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