Report card: Chelsea's faith in small forwards has big payoff in B- display vs Newcastle

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Goals from Pedro and Willian helped guide Chelsea to a 2-1 win over Newcastle United in the Premier League on Saturday.

The Spaniard opened the scoring in the ninth minute at Stamford Bridge before Ciaran Clark equalised from a corner five minutes before the break.

Willian then scored what proved to be the winner with an excellent strike in the 57th minute.

Here, we grade the performances of both sides in our report card.

THE GOOD 

For Chelsea – The long game

Chelsea were always going to enjoy the lion’s share of possession at home to Newcastle and to their credit, they were patient with their build-up play. They moved the ball from side to side with the centre-backs stepping up into midfield to get involved as well. By gradually drawing Newcastle out, the distribution of David Luiz would then come to the fore as he sprayed long balls forward, picking out the runs in behind of Pedro on a number of occasions.

For Newcastle – Recovery

After conceding inside nine minutes at the Bridge, it would’ve been easy for the visitors to collapse but they showed resilience in their ability to consolidate before drawing level as well. Even after they went behind again, they rarely afforded the Blues clear-cut chances.

THE BAD

For Chelsea – Weak defending

Despite dominating possession, Chelsea are always likely to concede. A simple direct ball in or around their penalty area often leaves them scrambling. The marking for the corner that Newcastle scored from was poor with Luiz allowing Ciaran Clark to get away from him. However, they could easily have conceded even before that with Luiz again beaten in the air against Salomon Rondon whose flick-on couldn’t be dispatched by Ayoze Perez.

Chelsea concede again.

Chelsea concede again.

For Newcastle – Backing off

Containment was always going to be Newcastle’s priority and they largely did that well. Knowing when to back off and when to push up is key though and they got that all wrong. They stood off Hazard well but should’ve closed down at times in midfield. Backing off Willian inside their box proved costly as the Brazilian scored the winner.

TACTICAL TALKING POINT 

Sarri opts against a No9

It’s no secret that Sarri isn’t wholly impressed by the strikers he has at his disposal, a suspicion confirmed by his regular deployment of Hazard as a false nine. However, against a Newcastle side expected to defend deep, the common consensus is that a target man in the box could at least aid an aerial assault with little room in behind the defence but Olivier Giroud could only manage a place on the bench.

Sarri instead used the mobility and technical ability of his three small forwards to create space beyond the back-line. They would regularly drop off, exchanging passes with the midfielders and slowly luring the Magpies away from their deep line, occasionally creating the opportunity for one of them to dart in behind.

Pedro

GRADING 

For Chelsea: B-

Sarri’s team selection stayed true to his philosophy but it felt like Hazard was sacrificed for the greater good. Not ideal when he’s by far their best player. Meanwhile, defensive vulnerability is still a huge concern.

For Newcastle: C

In truth, escaping a thumping in itself was an accomplishment. Rafa Benitez set his side up well and may have earned a draw with a little more quality.

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Chelsea player ratings as Pedro is key man in 2-1 win over Newcastle

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Goals from Pedro and Willian helped guide Chelsea to a 2-1 win over Newcastle United in the Premier League on Saturday.

The Spaniard opened the scoring in the ninth minute at Stamford Bridge before Ciaran Clark equalised from a corner five minutes before the break.

Willian then scored what proved to be the winner with an excellent strike in the 57th minute.

Here, we rate the performances of the Chelsea players.

STARTING XI (4-3-3)

Kepa Arrizzabalaga – Barely involved apart from picking the ball out of his net the one time.

Cesar Azpilicueta – Weak defending in the air against Salomon Rondon nearly resulted in a late equaliser. Good runs forward though, one of which helped stretch the defence and create space for Pedro to steal in and bag the opener. 6

Antonio Rudiger – Calm and assured as always and looked comfortable on the ball. 6

David Luiz – Impressive in possession with his Hollywood passes taking centre-stage, assisting the opener. Suspect defensively though and was at fault for Newcastle’s goal. 6

Marcos Alonso – Provided good support in attack but was also solid defensively. 6

N’Golo Kante – Covered plenty of ground and pressed high up the pitch. Set up Pedro with a big chance in a second half counter-attack. 6

Jorginho – Didn’t see an obscene amount of the ball but provided three key passes. Also made four tackles. 6

Mateo Kovacic – Just a passenger really. Didn’t offer much in attack or defence. 5

Willian – Shifted the ball and curled it into the far corner in the blink of an eye for the winner. Threatened throughout. 7

Eden Hazard – A quiet display as he was often crowded out but ended up with a modest assist for Willian. 6

Pedro – Best player on the day. Broke the deadlock with a great run, control and finish. Should’ve had at least one more having gotten in a couple more times. 8

SUBSTITUTES 

Ross Barkley (63′) – Like Kovacic who he replaced, played a bunch of safe passes and didn’t really make an impact. 5

Callum Hudson-Odoi (81′) – Looked lively when he came on but wasn’t afforded much time on the pitch. N/A

Olivier Giroud (87′) – Introduced with minutes to play. N/A

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West Ham 1-0 Arsenal: Talking points as Unai Emery's defensive woes continue

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Declan Rice

Arsenal’s bid to a Champions League spot suffered a huge blow after the Gunners were at the receiving end of a derby defeat against West Ham.

The hosts edged Unai Emery’s men 1-0 and the result did reflect the performances of both the teams involved.

Declan Rice scored for the Hammers in the second half after Arsenal failed to deal with Felipe Anderson’s shabby cross.

Aaron Ramsey came on and tried forcing a rescue act but the hosts held on to the lead and ensured that they went home with the bragging rights.

GOODBYE OZIL?

Mesut Ozil's time at Arsenal may be up.

Mesut Ozil’s time at Arsenal may be up.

Much like Isco at Real Madrid and Philippe Coutinho at Barcelona, Mesut Ozil has seemingly fallen out of his manager’s favour. The German last featured for the Gunners in their 1-1 draw at Brighton on December 26.

To look at the number 10’s last goal or assist. One has to go all the way back to October when he provided and scored against Leicester City.

That said, form is not the main concern for the German international. It appears that Ozil – who signed a contract extension until 2021 last year – is not a player Emery would want on the pitch, given how he was left out of the squad altogether against West Ham.

This could probably be the end of the road for the 20-year-old at the London-based club.

IS THERE A CLEAR PLAN IN PLACE, MR EMERY?

The former Sevilla manager got off to a great start with Arsenal and even oversaw a 14-game unbeaten run after opening defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City.

A loss to Southampton gave birth to a new test for the Spanish manager. The tinkering with formation post the defeat has been indecisive, wavering and volatile.

The Gunners are accustomed to a 4-2-3-1 formation under Emery. But lately, a 3-4-3 or a 3-4-2-1 has been a common sight in their fixtures.

A three-man defence has been Emery’s cautious response to the defeats against Southampton and Liverpool and in both the games which followed, the 47-year-old has changed it to a four-man backline through substitutions after the defence showed vulnerabilities.

While both formations have their pros and cons, Emery must be clear about how he’s approaching the game. If a four-man defence is the fall-back option when the three-man defence fails, why keep the three-man defence as the first option?

The former Paris Saint-Germain boss has a lot to think about, especially about matters concerning the back-line.

YOUNGSTERS IMPRESS

Alex Iwobi

Alex Iwobi

Arsenal have now lost three of their last six games in the league and won just two. Ozil is touted to leave the club and Aaron Ramsey – who is still performing at a high level – already has one leg out of the door.

Amid all this, if you are to dig for something positive, one must go no further than Matteo Guendouzi, Ainsley Maitland-Niles – and to an extent – Alex Iwobi.

All these players – who are at most 22 years old – have been the best in their departments. The game against West Ham was no different as these players emerged as the best.

Iwobi completed five dribbled throughout the game and created chances. The Nigerian got dispossessed just once and ensured a pass success percentage of 79 percent. This is not bad given he majorly functioned in the final third.

Guendouzi showed good press resistance and distributed the ball well against the Hammers. He even had to cover up for Granit Xhaka’s horror show and restricted the damage to a minimum.

Dangerous in attack while playing as a wing-back in a 3-4-3 and solid in defence while playing as a full-back in a 4-2-3-1, Maitland-Niles showed that he is one of the best players in the backline. He was not exceptional in Arsenal’s defence, but showed signs of a good future if molded well.

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