Thursday, November 26

Tammy Abraham’s strike seals victory at Newcastle and sends Chelsea to the top | Football

Optimists among Newcastle United’s fan base predicted that with so many players just returned from international service, Chelsea would arrive in Tyneside fatigued, frail and possibly rebellious.

How wrong can you be? Frank Lampard may have argued that a Saturday lunchtime start was difficult for his team, but his players looked formidably fresh throughout. In fact, they returned to Newcastle airport on Saturday afternoon with the kind of adrenaline synonymous with a team undefeated in 12 games and a five-game winning streak in all competitions. Underestimate your title chances at your own risk.

It quickly became apparent that Newcastle was in danger of conceding virtually every time Lampard’s team attacked. Tammy Abraham really should have opened the scoring after connecting with Hakim Ziyech’s tricky delivery and curveball, but instead Karl Darlow was able to deflect his header for a corner.

It was a strictly temporary home respite. Timo Werner and Mason Mount made the most of that combined play in a short corner maneuver that resulted in Mount crossing and Federico Fernandez putting the ball into his own net under pressure from Ben Chilwell. Bruce had spent Friday morning rehearsing such dead ball routines at Newcastle training grounds, but in this case, practice failed to elicit defensive perfection.

Fernandez protested that he was fouled by Chilwell, but a VAR review confirmed the impression that it was a rather sad appeal and the goal stood. From then on, a litany of visiting opportunities were turned down, saved, or lost by inches. As certain teammates chased shadows, Darlow stood out, once again confusing those who feared he might be an unsuitable substitute for the injured Martin Dubravka.

Federico Fernández's own goal in the first half.

Federico Fernández’s own goal in the first half. Photograph: Alex Pantling / EPA

With Werner proving to be particularly adept at using his glorious change of pace to blend in behind Bruce’s baseline, Lampard’s only concern must have been that his team’s lead wasn’t more complete. Tellingly, the only real criticism Werner could have was his inability to polish up a series of invitations to evade Darlow’s reach.

While Chelsea monopolized an almost embarrassing 85% of possession in the first half, Bruce’s mind was presumably focused on damage limitation. Sure enough, his defense morphed from a nominal three behind to the deepest of five.

True, the home team was losing to the injured Callum Wilson, but the artistic geometry of the passing and the away movement surely dictated that even Newcastle’s top scorer would have fought for meaningful touches.

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Granted, sure Sean Longstaff did little wrong in Bruce’s central midfield, but he could hardly turn the tide alone. Still, Longstaff tended to be involved in most of Newcastle’s highlights, as they managed a slight improvement in the second half.

The only downside to this fringe rally at home was that it gave Chelsea more room to fight back. Perhaps inevitably one of those ruptures preceded Abraham, who scored his team’s second goal thanks to a shot that went inside a post.

Appropriately, the creator was Werner. After intercepting a shot from home, the German deconstructed Bruce’s defense yet again with a wonderful rhythm-infused dribble as he dodged Longstaff, Fernández and Fabian Schär before providing Abraham with the vital pass.

Longstaff responded with an upward shot against the crossbar with Édouard Mendy defeated and then Miguel Almirón, in substitution, was denied by Lampard’s goalkeeper. But it was Chelsea day.

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