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Newcastle 0-2 Chelsea


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Newcastle 0 - 2 Chelsea F.C.

May 5 2008, Premier League, St James' Park, Newcastle

Newcastle_31_569689.jpg

Second Half goals from Michael Ballack and Florent Malouda earned Chelsea three points against Newcastle.


Ballack's header from a Didier Drogba free-kick settled the nerves, before Malouda confidently slotted home eight minutes before time to make the points safe, thus banishing memories of recent failures against the Magpies. The Blues were without a win at Newcastle in the league since a Dan Petrescu goal handed them victory in 2001, but the three points gathered have ensured that the race for the Premier League title between Chelsea and Manchester United will go down to the wire.

With United thrashing West Ham 4-1 at Old Trafford, it was clear to Avram Grant's side that nothing else but a win was satisfactory, and the much-maligned Chelsea manager paid herald to this with his team selection. Frank Lampard was dropped to the bench along with Joe Cole, whilst Salomon Kalou, Ashley Cole and Claude Makelele were not included in the travelling sixteen. Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka operated on the wings, whilst Paulo Ferreira returned at full-back, allowing Michael Essien to fit alongside Ballack and John Mikel Obi in a three-man midfield, and Wayne Bridge started for the first time since late March.

Newcastle, unbeaten in seven games heading into this crunch fixture, fielded former Chelsea midfielder Gérémi in midfield, whilst Mark Viduka was fit to play alongside Obafemi Martins and captain Michael Owen. Former Blues wingers Damien Duff was on the bench and would feature late on for the home side.

Chelsea were slow to organise themselves in the opening exchanges as Newcastle stamped their authority on the game. Michael Owen wasted a glorious opportunity with merely five minutes played. Former United midfielder Nicky Butt launched a teasing ball into the path of the Newcastle number ten, who timed his run to perfection, only to flick the ball over the crossbar from eight yards with the outside of his boot. In hindsight, the striker should have used his left foot, but Owen was forced to take his chance quickly with Petr Cech bearing down on him.

Habib Beye, former team-mate of Didier Drogba at Marseille, was enjoying his more attack-minded role as a wing-back, and his wayward cross spurned a good opportunity for the home side. Cutting inside Wayne Bridge, Beye looked to have done the hard work but mis-hit his pass with Owen and Viduka available.

But their best opportunities fell within the space of a matter of moments, and but for excellent goalkeeping and instinctive defensive work from Chelsea skipper Terry, Michael Owen would have put the Magpies ahead. Martins worked his way into the box before feeding Viduka, whose shot was quickly smothered by the advancing Cech. However the goalkeeper could only knock the ball into the path of Owen who shot beyond Cech, only to see his effort cleared off the line brilliantly by Terry, who had fashioned his way behind his goalkeeper after initially making the block which stalled Martins' progress.

Chelsea had been limited in their attacking play thanks to a well-marshalled defensive line for Kevin Keegan's side, with the visitors limited to long-range efforts from Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel which were wide. On the one occasion that the Blues fashioned an opening, Ballack's touch was poor meaning he could only screw the ball wide when in a good position.

But Chelsea's ascendancy towards the end of the first half was evident and Keegan opted for his team to have a more cautious approach to the game after the interval, but the dominance of Avram Grant's side was clear for all to witness.

Didier Drogba, who had crucially netted twice against Liverpool in midweek, was beginning to show signs of his quality after a thus-far inexistent performance. The Ivorian flicked Mikel's pass into the feet of Ballack, and only the tackle of Taylor prevented the shot from the German. Chelsea thought they had found the breakthrough from the resulting corner, but Terry's header was fractionally too high and cannoned off the crossbar. Malouda's deliver was brilliantly whipped, but the Chelsea captain could only power the ball against the woodwork from a difficult angle. The impetus was with the away side, and this pattern of play was to continue until Ballack's opener, seven minutes later.

Faye committed a poor foul on the edge of the area, felling Malouda. Drogba's worked freekick found Ballack, who rose highest to head beyond Steve Harper. The Ivorian cleverly pretended to strike the ball, pushing Newcastle's line backwards, ensuring Ballack was not offside, before his wicked cross found the German to plant his header into the bottom corner. Ballack's tenth of the season was as crucial a goal as any he had previously scored for the Blues.

Chelsea's goal had a somewhat negative effect, as it was the cue for Newcastle to come forward. Previously shackled to prevent Chelsea from working an opening, the home side were beginning to pour forward with freedom, and almost had an equaliser. Butt's misconnection saw the ball balloon into the box, and Owen was inches away from putting the ball into the net. The mis-hit pass from Butt completely bamboozled the defence, allowing Owen to steal in beyond John Terry, but he was unable to steer the ball beyond Cech.

Chelsea were forced to make a substitute moments later as Alex da Costa came on for Ricardo Carvalho. The Portuguese had fell awkwardly after an aerial confrontation with Obafemi Martins, and was taken off as a precaution. Frank Lampard, introduced only a matter of moments beforehand, took time to reorganise the Chelsea formation as Grant relayed instructions to his team.

And the tactical changes worked, as Chelsea secured the three points with a wonderful passing move. Ballack played a clever one-two with Essien before feeding Lampard, who cleverly slotted the ball through the Newcastle defence. Florent Malouda, much criticised for his lack of form since injury in December, gratefully received the pass and made no mistake as he slotted the ball beyond Harper from an acute angle. Michael Ballack had stung the palms of the Newcastle previously, and Essien's drive into the box was blocked by Harper in stoppage time.

Chelsea weathered a final throw of the dice from Newcastle, setting up a grandstand finale to a remarkable season in the Premier League.
___________________________________________________________________

Match Fact : The Blues were without a win in five games at St James' Park prior to this encounter.

Newcastle: Harper (7), Beye (5), Taylor (6), Faye (7), Jose Enrique (6) (and'Zogbia (6)), Geremi (6) (Duff (6)), Butt (7), Barton (5), Viduka (6) (Smith (5)), Owen (6), Martins (6)

Chelsea: Cech (6), Ferreira (6), Terry (8), Carvalho (6) (Alex (6)), Bridge (6), Essien (8), Mikel (7), Ballack (7), Anelka (7) (Lampard (7)), Drogba (6) (Shevchenko (6)), Malouda (7)

Attendance: 52,305

Referee: Steve Bennett (Kent)

Man of the Match : Michael Essien

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