A stunning second-half strike from Willian proved decisive as Chelsea beat Newcastle 2-1 to move six points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal in the Premier League table.
Maurizio Sarri’s side had raced into an early lead when Pedro finished brilliantly after being picked out by an incisive David Luiz pass, but six minutes before half-time the visitors restored parity through Ciaran Clark, who headed past Kepa from a Matt Ritchie corner.
Willian passed up a decent opportunity to restore our lead immediately when he fired wide when through on goal, but the Brazilian more than made up for it just before the hour mark when he curled home a wonderful winner.
It was by no means a vintage display, but with the race to qualify for next season's Champions League so tight, the result, ultimately, was all that mattered.
David Luiz's distribution from deep
The opening goal in this evening’s encounter, like the one at Crystal Palace a fortnight ago, came from an inch-perfect pass out from the back by David Luiz.
Spotting the run of Pedro, David Luiz provided a perfectly-weighted pass over the top of the Newcastle defence and the Spaniard did the rest, bringing the ball down and producing a wonderful lob to give us the lead.
At Selhurst Park it was N’Golo Kante who was the beneficiary of a David Luiz pass, and given his undoubted technical qualities in playing out from the back, it’s easy to see why Maurizio Sarri believes the Brazilian is such a key part of his system.
Shortly after Willian had made it 2-1 the attacker almost scored again, with Dubravka getting his fingertips to the ball as he attempted to follow Pedro's lead and lob the Newcastle 'keeper as he raced off his line. The architect of the opportunity? David Luiz. With another ball out from the back.
Prior to today’s game, David Luiz had attempted more through balls than any other player in the Premier League this season with 25, and thankfully his 26th led to an important Chelsea goal.
At the heart of the back four, the defensive side of the game will inevitably be the main focus for David Luiz, but with two vital assists of late, as well as a goal against Manchester City, the 30-year-old is having a big impact on our attacking play.
A happy home
Having dropped points in our two previous home Premier League matches, it was imperative we emerged victorious from this evening’s encounter.
The need to take maximum points was made even more crucial given the result in the day’s early fixture as Arsenal, a place behind us in
the table, were beaten 1-0 by West Ham United.
Our victory now means we hold a six-point advantage over the Gunners ahead of the meeting between the teams at the Emirates next Saturday. A win in north London would provide Maurizio Sarri’s side with a healthy cushion over our rivals.
Today’s victory was our first at home in the league since the triumph over Manchester City early last month, and it couldn’t have been timed any better.
There were three changes to the side which started against Tottenham in midweek, with David Luiz coming back into the back four at the expense of Andreas Christensen, while in midfield Mateo Kovacic replaced Ross Barkley.
Further forward Pedro made his first start since the Boxing Day win at Watford, Callum Hudson-Odoi dropping down to the bench, with Eden Hazard operating as the central striker once again.
8: GOAL, 1-0 to Chelsea! The Blues took the lead from the first opportunity of the game as Pedro escaped Ciaran Clark to latch on to a superb ball out from the back by David Luiz. The Spaniard controlled it with his first touch, before brilliantly lifting it over the head of goalkeeper Martin Dubravka to break the deadlock.
29: Newcastle worked the ball forward and as Christian Atsu found Salomon Rondon the forward, under pressure from Cesar Azpilicueta, blasted his strike wide.
35: A big chance for the visitors went begging as Ayoze Perez fired wide with just Kepa to beat after racing on to Rondon’s flick.
39: Chelsea 1-1 Newcastle. Newcastle drew level six minutes before the break as Clark rose to meet Matt Ritchie’s corner, steering his header into the bottom corner.
40: The Blues passed up a great chance to immediately restore our advantage as Willian dragged his strike wide having been well found by Jorginho.
47: Great save! Pedro came close to doubling his tally two minutes after the restart when he was picked out by Kante, but the Spaniard’s low drive, which was heading in, was beaten away by Dubravka.
56: Another chance fell Pedro’s way, this time at the end of a brilliant passing move down the left-hand side, but the attacker couldn’t generate enough power in his shot, making it a comfortable save for Dubravka.
57: GOAL, 2-1 to Chelsea! Willian produced an exquisite finish, collecting a Hazard pass on the edge of the box before cutting inside and bending a wonderful right-footed effort into the far corner to put us back in front. What a goal!
85: Newcastle threatened late on as Javier Manquillo crossed to the far post where his delivery was headed just wide by Rondon.
With the Blues safely through to the FA Cup fourth round, and not in replay action, we can enjoy a free midweek for the first time since early in the season.
Our next game, however, is a big one: Arsenal away next Saturday at 5.30pm.