Chelsea could savour the sedateness. A fifth consecutive win was rarely in doubt as they led for 80 minutes, enjoyed 71 percent of possession and played with such control and authority to suggest they could be title challengers. For the first time in Frank Lampard’s reign, they finished a game at the Premier League summit. “It is pleasing but I am not going to get excited about being top of the table for five minutes,” the manager said. “It is a long race.”
For Newcastle, though, the kind of passive performance that was largely devoid of ambition further brings into question their policy of negativity. “We got off to an awful start,” Steve Bruce admitted. “First half maybe we were a bit too deep and showed them too much respect at times.” Perhaps defensiveness spared them a thrashing, but they had little else to show for their crippling caution.
It threatened to backfire from the off, with Karl Darlow making two fine saves even before Federico Fernandez’s early own goal, and their surfeit of centre-backs in a 5-4-1 formation still did not equip them to halt Timo Werner, whose pace enabled him to elide their many defenders at will. Chelsea’s summer signing lacked the finish – the only one he provided was when he was offside – and he was wasteful with his passing at times before he set up Tammy Abraham’s goal.
Yet that illustrated the depth of their resources and how a new-look side is gelling. Abraham seemed set to be displaced by recent recruits but he has scored in three consecutive games and has showed he can combine with Werner; each can be a foil to the other with the German providing the speed and the Englishman the focal point in attack.
That, in turn, meant Chelsea did not miss the sidelined Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic. Lampard can perm from a squad with quality and quantity.
Newcastle’s resources are lesser and they can sometimes prosper against the elite with a minimal share of possession. Not on this occasion, though. They afforded Chelsea so much of the ball that the home side only completed two more passes than Kurt Zouma in the first half.
They showed a little more ambition thereafter, but a goal would have flattered them; while Sean Longstaff hit the bar with a thunderbolt, Newcastle created little and Edouard Mendy has still only conceded one Premier League goal. United’s bad day was compounded by the loss of their injured captain, Jamaal Lascelles, at half-time.
St James’ Park has been a bogey ground for Chelsea but a sixth defeat in eight games was never on the cards. “The first 20 minutes we were great because we had control and penetration,” Lampard said.
A breakthrough could have come sooner. Darlow has made the most saves in the division this season. He was required to excel straightaway, especially when turning Werner’s goal-bound shot wide after the German found room in the inside-left channel and making a reflex stop to tip Abraham’s header over.
But Newcastle found themselves outnumbered on their left from the resulting corner, Mason Mount crossed and, under pressure from Ben Chilwell, Fernandez turned the ball into his own net.
Werner could have added a second, skewing a shot wide after Abraham opened Newcastle up with a lay-off, and Zouma headed wide from a corner before victory was sealed. Werner surged from his own half on a 40-yard burst before finding Abraham to slot a shot in off the post. “Our best spell in the game was when we conceded a second one,” rued Bruce.
But the absence of Newcastle’s injured top scorer Callum Wilson and Chelsea’s rested defensive linchpin Thiago Silva, who had just returned from South American qualifiers, felt equally irrelevant for much of the match.
Newcastle’s strategy consisted of trying to hang in the game and take an isolated chance. Isaac Hayden spurned what seemed the clearest, but referee Craig Pawson had already identified a handball. “We had one or two opportunities but didn’t quite take them,” Bruce added.
Joelinton’s somewhat ambitious effort from 50 yards was predictably wayward; the Brazilian was also off target from the edge of the box. He remains rooted on two Premier League goals and a symbol of Newcastle’s impotence.