Prior to Saturdays game at St. James Park, the pre-match build-up heavily focused on whether or not Chelsea could go a whole season undefeated, matching the historic feat of the 2003 Arsenal side.
From day one Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho denied speculation of any attempt to focus on any specific records. During his weekly news conferences he dismissed any importance of matching or topping Arsenal’s record, claiming he just wanted to win the trophy for a third time.
After a poor showing against Sunderland, the game against Newcastle was set up to be another tough game for Chelsea. Despite all of the success that Mourinho has had throughout his career, he has never been able to beat Newcastle United at St. James Park.
Before kick-off there was a big emphasis of the Chelsea team selection. Despite both Didier Drogba and Loic Remy scoring midweek in a very convincing win over local rivals Spurs, Diego Costa returned to the side following his suspension. Reliant midfielder Nemanja Matic, however, missed out through suspension, with John Obi Mikel coming into the side to replace the ever present Serbian midfielder.
In the 2011-12 season, Chelsea were undone by two goals from Senegalese striker Papiss Cisse at Stamford Bridge, and it was once again two goals from substitute Cisse that sunk the Blues, ending their winning streak and extending Mourinho’s poor away record to Newcastle. Despite pulling a goal back, the Blues lacked urgency, whether down to a busy schedule or the mentality of the players I don’t know. However it was noticeable – there were too many backwards passes and the team appeared unable to figure out a way of getting through a well organised Newcastle defence.
To give Newcastle their credit, Saturday’s result was a solid and hard-fought performance, however, I believe that Chelsea will feel that they could have taken all three points. By no means have Chelsea thrown away their chances of clinching the title, nor does it mean that Chelsea are in a bad state. However, these minor issues have always crept into Chelsea’s game, and could become something which hinders their title challenge in the near future.
Many suspected the loss of Matic could have been Chelsea’s Achilles’ heel. Matic has been a dominant figure in the Chelsea midfielder since he re-signed for the Blues last winter. He was always going to be a missing figure for the Blues, but Mourinho insisted that Mikel was ready to do his job. I do feel that Mikel had a solid game in truth. With Mikel you know what you will get – sideways passes and little to nothing going forward, but he will make a tackle.
What the game did highlight for me is that something that they have been susceptible to for a long time – a problem that some fans may have overlooked with rose-tinted glasses prior to the matches against both Sunderland and Newcastle. Of course, there have been and will always be many teams that play Chelsea with the sole focus of stopping them from playing, planting two banks of four and sitting deep, making movement and free-flowing football near impossible. However, the best of teams, with that something extra, will always find a way through. Whenever I watch Chelsea play against smaller teams, I always worry about their adaptability, which is something that Chelsea have always struggled with – knowing how to break down the smaller teams that play with the aim of simply defending for their lives.
The purchase of Cesc Fabregas over the summer was a signing which aimed to alleviate this problem from Chelsea’s game, and in one respect he has. He has taken Chelsea to another level, contributing 11 assists in just 13 games. However, I do sometimes still question the urgency at which Chelsea play. Throughout the early stages of the season, it was clear for many that Mourinho wished to implement a high speed and high pressing style of play, which is all well and good when the side are winning.
However, Chelsea have always dropped points against the ‘smaller’ sides, because they fail to adapt their tactics and gameplan when the going gets tough.