Follow the Ball – Game 9: Chelsea vs Newcastle United

 
Nine games in and we are so close to some European football that I can almost taste the Gazprom. The plan for the Follow the Ball series, where I intend on enjoying an “unbeaten” year by following football in a Winner Stays On fashion, was always to enjoy some football on the continent and Chelsea’s Champions League tie against PSG should help me with that – assuming they don’t slip up against Newcastle United.

Game 5: Arsenal (c) 0-1 Chelsea
Barclays Premier League, Sunday 24th January 2016, Emirates Stadium

Game 6: MK Dons 1-5 Chelsea (c)
The Emirates FA Cup, Sunday 31st January 2016, Stadium mk

Game 7: Watford 0-0 Chelsea (c)
Barclays Premier League, Wednesday 3rd February 2016, Vicarage Road

Game 8: Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United
Barclays Premier League, Sunday 7th February 2016, Stamford Bridge

All that stands between me and some football on the continent…

Game 9: Chelsea vs Newcastle United
Barclays Premier League, Saturday 13th February 2016, Stamford Bridge

The Skinny: Another one of those games that I don’t think Chelsea will be all that bothered about – in the grand scheme of things. I’m not suggesting that the players won’t try but their Barclays Premier League campaign is over. If they win all of their remaining games, they could finish on 69 points (good enough for fifth last year) but that won’t be of much interest to them. Winning trophies and upsetting the title campaigns of others is where the money is, and this clash offers the chance for them to do neither. Sorry Newcastle.

Chelsea will play this game with one eye on Tuesday’s clash with Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League. A perfect scenario for the home side will see them score twice inside the opening 30 minutes, kill the game for the next 30 (and add a third) and then take off three key players to give them a rest. For Newcastle, if they can stay in the match until half-time, they can make things very awkward for their hosts – and potentially grab an important victory on the road – with a battling performance.

The Match: Well, that went swimmingly well. Even better than the perfect scenario I suggested. 3-0 up inside 18 minutes, Chelsea had their foot off the gas (off the petrol just sounds weird) by the time half-time and cruised towards Tuesday’s Champions League match.

Pedro, Diego Costa and Willian all looked sharp, and all three took their goals very well. Willian really shouldn’t have had it so easy when he slotted in the third but that was as much to do with Newcastle’s lacklustre defensive work as it was Costa’s supremely weighted pass.

Worrying for Newcastle United is that the result takes them into the bottom three. Much has been made of Newcastle’s away form compared to their home performances with some (for some, read Tim Sherwood) suggesting that a mix of their home crowd and their January signings will keep them up. I remain to be convinced.

Against Arsenal (when I watched them in the first Follow the Ball match) I did commend Newcastle for their effort. There was none of that to seen against Chelsea. They shot themselves in the foot with their slow start in this game and just had to hang on, hoping Chelsea wouldn’t make it tremendously worse. They have the worst goal difference in the league; which may yet be a factor.

As an aside, I am now thrilled Manchester United did not win Game 8 or I’d be stuck watching Sunderland in the coming weeks.

The Result: Chelsea 5-1 Newcastle United

What’s next? Paris Saint-Germain vs Chelsea in the Champions League

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