Chelsea kicked off the game sitting in 3rd knowing the chasing pack were hot on their heels. Victor Moses was being eased back into the starting lineup whilst Cesar Azpilicueta was brought back into the team after his surprising rest against Swansea in midweek. The home side were alarmed after 12th minute goal from Dwight Gayle shocked the hosts until an assured end to the first half ensured there was nothing to worry about. A world class performance from Eden Hazard took all three points for the blues & ahead of a world cup with Belgium, Eden is hitting the right form.
Defenders slow to react
Chelsea’s 3-5-2 was matched by Newcastle’s 3-4-3 with Matt Ritche playing as a LWB (he also pushed on at times to create an asymmetric 4-5-1 shape). Newcastle’s wingers positioned themselves in the half-spaces knowkng that Chelsea’s back 5 are instructed to mark zonally. This positional advantage meant Newcastle’s wingers were free to receive the ball until the point of contact which acted as a pressing trigger for the back 5. The long ball from Florian Lejeune was knocked down which removed all 3 Chelsea midfielders from the phase of play. The moment of madness saw Chelsea’s defenders press incoherently leading to Gayle scoring a tap in. In a rare defensive lapse, all the boys in blue left it to a teammate to clear the ball which none of them did, losing a 6v3 overload in the process.
Hazard as a false 9
Although it seems to be a 5-3-2 on paper, Hazard’s movements implied a 5-3-1-1 shape. The Belgian played just off of Alvaro Morata, using him as a reference point for his own actions. The Spaniard stayed central, usually attracting 1 or 2 centre backs which placed Hazard in various 1v1 situations with the third. This benefited Chelsea’s general play as their final third transitions became smoother due to Hazard’s comfort in coming deep for the ball. Newcastle weren’t properly set up to deal with a free roaming Eden Hazard, something that contributed to their downfall greatly.
Victor Moses’ return
This was Victor Moses’ first start in 6 weeks following his injury in the game away to Crystal Palace. Although the Nigerian international isn’t amazing defensively he produces a significant amount more than Cesar Azpilicueta & Davide Zappacosta going forward from the RWB position. Furthermore he’s their best threat on either side proving he still retains the technical ability from his days as a winger. Conte’s 3-4-3 has helped Moses improve due to the various automatism’s built around him, with Moses’ driving runs inside being one of them. Moses’ run won Chelsea a penalty which Eden Hazard converted, sealing a 3-1 win.
CONC- Chelsea are now in full flow & are a level above the ‘crisis club’ of a few weeks ago. Their kind fixture list means that they don’t play against another top 6 team until January 3rd in which they’ll travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal. It is critical that over the festive period they must be wary of fatigue, injuries & suspensions to maintain peak performance. Between now & next Saturday’s trip to play David Moyes’ West Ham, Conte’s side must navigate a trick Champions League tie at home to Atletico Madrid. A win will mean they’ll enter the Round of 16 draw as group winners, potentially avoiding most of Europe’s elite.