Eden Hazard central to Chelsea's victory at Newcastle in first start of season
Chelsea made it three wins out of three to start their Premier League season after triumphing 2-1 over Newcastle at St James' Park on Sunday.
The shape of the game was established from the first minute with Chelsea camping in Newcastle's half with the hosts content to sit back. Yet the first decent chance occurred at the other end, when Salomon Rondon flashed a free header wide.
The visitors then found a few gaps in their opponents' defence, with Eden Hazard puling the strings. Hazard and Pedro both had glimpses of goal without really testing Martin Dubravka, while Cesar Azpilicueta saw his goal-bound volley inadvertently blocked by Alvaro Morata.
The pattern continued with Azpilicueta forcing a save after nice work from Pedro before Antonio Rudiger struck the bar with a fierce shot from long range. Referee Paul Tierney then took centre stage.
First he allowed Matt Ritchie to stay on the pitch after a wild kick at Hazard before awarding a highly contentious penalty to Chelsea when Fabian Schar appeared to win the ball while challenging Marcos Alonso. Hazard duly netted from 12 yards. Newcastle drew level after yet another poor decision when the officials ignored a clear elbow on Olivier Giroud by DeAndre Yedlin moments before the American delivered a cross that was converted by Joselu.
Justice was served three minutes from time when Alonso's shot found the corner after deflecting goalward off Yedlin's toe.
Chelsea showed reservoirs of patience in trying to prise apart Newcastle's dogged deep-sitting defence and were quick to press when dispossessed. There was no wastefulness in possession and plenty of movement ensured that the Blues maintained intense pressure on their opponents throughout the 90 minutes. Grabbing a winner after conceding so late was also a good sign of the team's resolve.
For all Chelsea's possession, they created fewer chances than Maurizio Sarri would have liked. There was a distinct lack of width and a persistence in playing in congested areas, which played into the hands of Newcastle's massed defence. Equally, there was too little direct play or pot shots at goal, with only Rudiger trying his luck from distance.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- The team have certainly bought into his mantra about keeping the ball and playing with their heads up. It still needs much more refinement to ensure that players are properly exploiting the space in front of them.
Player ratings (1-10, 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 7 -- Had no chance with the goal and had almost nothing else to do all game. Did have one hairy moment when a pass out from the back actually accidentally nutmegged Rondon.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 -- Was conspicuous from an attacking perspective and had two decent efforts at goal, both on target.
DF David Luiz, 6 -- Was beautifully balanced on the ball and used it very well. Unfortunately undid all his good work by badly losing concentration as Joselu got in front of him to score at the near post.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 8 -- Quick, powerful and precise, the German dominated his sphere of influence. Rattled the crossbar with a stupendous strike to show that he has more talent than purely defending.
DF Marcos Alonso, 8 -- Involved in both goals, he was once again a crucial element in Chelsea's victory. One complaint would be his reluctance to play an early cross into the area and feed Morata with something aerial to attack.
MF Jorginho, 7 -- The conductor of the orchestra, he had the most touches in the game as he ticked the play along. Never played a killer ball but set the tempo.
MF N'Golo Kante, 7 -- Buzzed around in his familiar fashion without getting tempted to make runs beyond the back line. Effective without having to be brilliant.
MF Mateo Kovacic, 8 -- An impressive full debut from the Croatian, who looks perfectly suited to Sarri's preferred style of play. Mixed neat and tidy play with little bursts of energy to hint at a very promising season ahead.
FW Eden Hazard, 9 -- Other than the referee, he was the central figure in the match. Always wanted the ball despite being hacked down almost every time he received it, he thoroughly deserved to be on the score sheet.
FW Pedro, 7 -- Had his incisive moments in the first half, though too often found himself cutting inside when he could have been stretching Newcastle out wide.
FW Alvaro Morata, 6 -- A mixed bag from the striker who showed some excellent movement, but his touch was occasionally found wanting. Was not always provided with the right ball to test the goalkeeper.
FW Olivier Giroud, 8 -- His desire to rescue a deep free kick was crucial to Chelsea's winning goal.
FW Willian, 6 -- Used the ball reasonably well and made one decent burst upfield.
MF Ross Barkley, NR -- Showed good touch and composure while on the pitch and would have scored had Yedlin not turned the ball in instead.