Newcastle United 0 – 2 Chelsea

Match reports

The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “Chelsea yet again paced themselves beautifully to stay in step with Manchester United. The reigning champions cannot exactly dread Sunday’s trip to Wigan Athletic when a victory will secure the title on goal difference, but they will go there with a discomfiting sense of claustrophobia because of Avram Grant’s team. Breathing space ceased to exist when Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad lost at Stamford Bridge 10 days ago.”

Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Cometh the hour, cometh the German: Ballack headed home his ninth of the season before Florent Malouda added a second. In all probability, United will need to win at Wigan, because Chelsea surely boast too much belief and firepower for Bolton.”

The Times, Martin Samuel: “Set against Chelsea’s achievement in turning what many regarded as a foregone conclusion into something akin to Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty fighting to the death on Reichenbach Falls, Newcastle’s lap of thanks to the supporters for their continued indulgence in treating twelfth place as a big whoop seemed somewhat out of place. After Michael Owen, the Newcastle striker, was denied by John Terry’s clearance off the line in the 28th minute, Newcastle were outplayed in the second half once Chelsea’s players had life breathed into them by Avram Grant during the interval.”

The Independent, Sam Wallace: “[Chelsea] are the shadow across Old Trafford. Their pursuit of Manchester United has been relentless and they will not be flicked aside to accommodate a convenient procession for Sir Alex Ferguson’s would-be champions. If Chelsea told us one thing yesterday, it is that United will have to beat Wigan Athletic on Sunday to be sure of the title because these boys in blue are in no mood to capitulate until the very last moment of the season.”

Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea had won at Newcastle for the first time in the league since 2001. In doing so, we had guaranteed at least second place and automatic entry to next season’s Champions League.”

Black & White & Read All Over, Paul: “For 45 minutes, we not only contained Chelsea, but we had the better opportunities. The best falling to Owen who, after a strong run by Martins led to a scramble in the box, was presented with a golden opportunity to take the lead only for John Terry to clear off the line. At the other end, for all Chelsea were passing the ball well, Steve Harper was barely extended throughout the half.”

The goals

61′ Ballack 0-1
82′ Malouda 0-2

The good

  1. Three points. I didn’t expect it to be easy and Newcastle proved more than a match for us in the first half; Kevin Keegan was probably disappointed to go in level. Avram Grant made some brave decisions and rested both Frank Lampard, who has trained very little in the last fortnight, and Joe Cole, and started with Nicolas Anelka wide right. It looked like Grant’s gamble would backfire as we rarely threatened Steve Harper’s goal, whereas Newcastle created a number of scoring opportunities, the best falling to Michael Owen who was denied by John Terry’s brilliant goal line clearance. Half time.
  2. The second half. We have looked vulnerable after the break in recent games, more so when leading. Not in this match. Grant didn’t make any changes in personnel but he did move Anelka to a more central position alongside Didier Drogba. For 15 minutes up until Michael Ballack’s opening goal, we dominated possession, reaching 78%. The trio of Ballack, Michael Essien and John Mikel Obi commanded midfield and it was only a matter of time before we scored. Drogba planted a free kick on Ballack’s head, who nodded the ball almost unchallenged across Harper into the far corner of the net. Newcastle rallied briefly before Florent Malouda put the game beyond the Magpies in the 82nd minute. Job done.
  3. Our second goal. A thing of beauty. Essien to Ballack, Ballack to Frank Lampard (who replaced Anelka with half an hour remaining), Lampard to Malouda who finished well. It was Malouda’s first goal since scoring against Birmingham on the opening day of the season.
  4. Michael Ballack. The German has been imperious lately. Scored his third season defining goal in as many games. I used to despise him when he was at Bayern Munich. (Remember his dive for a penalty in front of the Shed during a Champions League game in 2005?) How times have changed. He’s close to being my favourite current player now.
  5. We’ve lost only three six (three League, one League Cup, one FA Cup, one Champions League) of 50 games under Grant. He hasn’t wholly delivered the promised change in style, but it’s hard to argue with a record like that.

The bad

  1. Lack of any goal threat in the first half. Newcastle defended well and we were limited to some abysmal shooting from distance. I was convinced that Grant’s gamble was going to hand Manchester United the Premier League trophy on a plate, but credit where it’s due, Grant – or whoever gave the half time team talk – roused the troops, switched the formation ever so slightly, and we looked like a team fighting for the title after the break.
  2. Possible injury to Ricardo Carvalho. Two horrible looking falls similar to the one which injured his hip at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season saw Carvalho substituted on 78 minutes. Hopefully the injury is not as serious this time. It’s unclear what Terry was saying to Carvalho as the Portuguese left the pitch, but I’d guess that Terry was trying to persuade Carvalho to stay on at least until Alex was warmed up and ready to replace him. It showed just how much Terry cares.

Player ratings

  • Petr Cech: Made one important stop from Mark Viduka – 7/10.
  • Paulo Ferreira: Was given a hard time by Obafemi Martins in the first half, otherwise a solid display – 6.5/10.
  • Wayne Bridge: Lacking match sharpness – 6/10.
  • John Terry: Solid, passionate. Looks close to his best – 7.5/10.
  • Ricardo Carvalho: Still our best defender. Two heavy falls – 7.5/10.
  • Michael Ballack: Another important goal. Ruled midfield second half – 8/10.
  • Michael Essien: Seems to have limitless energy – 7.5/10.
  • John Mikel Obi: Composed. Allowed Ballack and Essien more freedom – 7.5/10.
  • Nicolas Anelka: Wasted on the wing first half. Only slightly better in a more central role second – 6/10.
  • Florent Malouda: Improved second half. Some good dead ball deliveries and took his goal well – 7/10.
  • Didier Drogba: Looked a bit tired. Good free kick – 6.5/10.
  • Frank Lampard (sub): Calm and effective. Great pass for Malouda’s goal – 6.5/10.
  • Andriy Shevchenko (sub): Not enough time – 6/10.
  • Alex (sub): Good defender to have on the bench – 6/10.

Man of the Match

Michael Ballack. If only he were a few years younger.

Final thoughts

Score 20 plus goals against Bolton Wanderers at the Bridge next weekend and the Premier League title is ours!

Seriously, at least we’ve taken it to the last day and given ourselves a chance of pinching the trophy from under Manchester United’s noses.

It’s well odds-on that goal difference will decide the destination of the title for the first time in Premier League history – but stranger things have happened. Better United’s result at Wigan and it will be ours for the third time in four years.

Let’s hope it’s a classic end of season like 1989 and 1995.

Up the Latics!

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