Newcastle United and manager Rafa Benitez came into their Premier League match against Chelsea on Sunday knowing that the visiting side would feature a potent attack. Benitez crafted a different formation for the fixture, but it was not enough to secure any points for the Toon in a 2-1 loss.
The Blues enjoyed more than 80 percent possession throughout the game, spraying passes all across the pitch. Benitez chose a five-man defence, with three centre-backs in front of goalkeeper Martin Dubravka. Full-backs Paul Dummett and DeAndre Yedlin operated as wing-backs, and both were in advanced positions when needed.
Ultimately, the strategy was to keep the match within reach, and look to catch Chelsea on the counter-attack if possible. For much of the proceedings, it was a stroke of genius from the Newcastle manager. Although they did not produce much in the final third or any type of thrilling football, Newcastle were in a strong spot that could have seen them walk away from the match with at least a point.
While a penalty allowed Eden Hazard to give Chelsea a 1-0 advantage in the 76th minute, the team were finally able to make an impact in the opposing half. A wonderful cross from Yedlin found second-half substitute Joselu, and his well-placed header found the back of the net to level the match.
For the home supporters, the electric positivity would only last so long.
Just four minutes later, Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso sent a shot towards Newcastle’s goal that took a deflection off Yedlin, delivering three points for manager Maurizio Sarri and his squad. There was plenty of criticism from pundits for Benitez’s tactics, but he was simply putting his club in a position to gain points. An attacking philosophy likely would have only seen Chelsea rack up the goals at St. James’ Park.
Issues off the pitch
Newcastle’s line-up was noticeable due to two omissions, as midfielder Jonjo Shelvey and captain Jamaal Lascelles were not involved in the game (Paul Dummett wore the armband against the Blues). Both were said to be because of injuries, although several outlets have reported that Lascelles’ absence was the result of a spat on the training ground with Benitez.
Prior to kick-off, several demonstrations opposing owner Mike Ashley’s running of the club were seen near the stadium and beyond. Add in the 2-1 loss, and it was a day loaded with frustration for Newcastle players and supporters.
There is no confirmation of a problem between Benitez and Lascelles at this time. However, even if there is, a resolution can hopefully be found relatively quickly. Things do not get any easier for the Magpies, set to visit Nottingham Forest in the League Cup on Wednesday evening before traveling to face Premier League title-holders Manchester City.
Newcastle United have begun the 2018-19 season with one draw and two defeats. A strong run late in the campaign last term was necessary to escape danger, and that may be required again very soon.