Chelsea defeated Newcastle United 2-0 to move back into the Premier League's top four thanks to Olivier Giroud’s opening goal and Timo Werner’s deserved return to the scoresheet.
We did the damage to the Magpies in an impressive first-half performance when the visitors had no answer to our width, allowing us to create several chances.
We were given the lead after half-an-hour following a burst down the left by Werner. When Karl Darlow palmed his low cross away substitute Giroud, on for the injured Tammy Abraham, was on hand to turn in the loose ball emphatically.
Werner made it two himself before half-time, sweeping in after a corner had ricocheted around the penalty box, despite Darlow clawing the ball away after it had already crossed the line.
However, a much improved performance by Newcastle after the break made the second period a very different prospect. We had to defend strongly at times as we made it four league wins in a row and Kepa Arrizabalaga made an impressive save to deny Joe Willock in the closing stages and ensure he kept a clean sheet on his return to Premier League action.
Thomas Tuchel made four changes from our previous Premier League fixture, the most eye-catching coming at goalkeeper, as Kepa Arrizabalaga continued in place of Edouard Mendy after keeping a clean sheet on his first appearance under Tuchel, as we beat Barnsley 1-0 in the FA Cup on Thursday.
The man who scored the decisive goal in that match, Tammy Abraham, also kept his place, leading the line supported by Werner and Mason Mount, as Giroud initially dropped to the bench.
The other changes to the line-up come at wing-back, as Callum Hudson-Odoi and Marcos Alonso returned to the starting XI in the Premier League, with Reece James and Ben Chilwell making way.
The central midfield partnership of Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho continued, after both sat out that FA Cup tie, as did the defensive trio of Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and captain Cesar Azpilicueta, with Thiago Silva still out through injury.
Ahead of kick-off, the Chelsea players warmed up in shirts celebrating Lunar New Year and the start of the Year of the Ox, featuring a New Year’s greeting emblem on the front and their names in Chinese characters on the back.
It was in the familiar blue shirts of our home kit that we kicked off the match and it took us just two minutes to force the first save from Karl Darlow.
It started with a bit of skill on the right from Callum Hudson-Odoi which former Chelsea winger Paul Canoville would have been proud of. The image of Canoville looked down approvingly on the pitch from a new banner in that corner of Stamford Bridge, honouring our first black player, who is currently in hospital recovering from complications after surgery.
The ball was moved across the face of the box from Hudson-Odoi to Marcos Alonso, via Mateo Kovacic, for our Spanish wing-back to let fly low at the near post, although it was smothered by Darlow.
Darlow had his defenders, or rather a striker, to thank as the Magpies pulled everyone back for an early Mason Mount corner. Cesar Azpilicueta met the delivery with a powerful header, only to see Dwight Gayle deflect it over the bar with his head a few yards out.
It was the width of Hudson-Odoi and Alonso which was giving us plenty of joy in the opening stages, as Newcastle’s narrow back four left our wing-backs in plenty of space.
In a double blow for Tammy Abraham, not only was he denied a great goalscoring opportunity by a last-ditch tackle from Jamal Lascelles, but the striker was forced off by an injury suffered in that challenge, Olivier Giroud coming on to replace him.
That forced first-half change briefly seemed to upset our rhythm and allow the visitors to have their most threatening spell so far, as first Antonio Rudiger had to show excellent reactions to halt Joe Willock on the edge of our box, before Allan Saint-Maximin’s effort was charged down.
We were soon back on the attack, though, when Alonso ghosted in at the back post to head a high ball across goal. Unfortunately, try as he might, Timo Werner couldn’t stretch far enough to get the contact needed to divert it goalward.
The German did play a big part when we found the opening goal on the half-hour mark, though. Having only returned to the pitch moments earlier after being ordered off for treatment on a bleeding cut lip, he picked up the ball out on the left and drove forward 20 yards into the box.
When Darlow dived in low at Mason Mount’s feet to block Werner’s low cross, the ball ricocheted towards the substitute Giroud, who struck it low and clean down the middle and into the undefended net.
Werner was close to extending our lead soon after, at the end of a fine move as Kovacic burst past two men in midfield, exchanged passes with Mount and fed the German, but his first-time shot went narrowly over the bar.
On top at the break
However, our number 11 did get his name on the scoresheet before half-time. A corner bounced off a couple of bodies and found its way to the far post, where Werner showed great balance to turn it goalwards. Darlow clawed the ball away only for Rudiger to follow up and tap home, but goal-line technology showed Werner’s initial effort had crossed the line by some margin before the goalkeeper’s intervention.
It was a welcome goal as Werner netted for the first time since early January, taking his tally for the season into double figures, but well deserved for another lively 45 minutes by the forward. There was nearly a third for the Blues before the break too, but Mount didn’t make a clean connection and screwed his shot wide at the end of a quick counter-attack.
However, when we came back out for the second half, Kepa had to make his first saves of the game, from a deflected Issac Hayden shot and a Jonjo Shelvey free-kick, although he made both look simple.
It was clear that the Magpies had done a bit of reflection during the break and were going to be a far more dangerous opponent in the second half. Indeed, we were grateful that Willock miscued their best chance when Saint-Maximin drilled low towards the near post.
It took more than 15 minutes to return to anything approaching the possession we had enjoyed in the first half, but even then it remained a far more even game. Newcastle’s decision to replace Dwight Gayle with the far more physical presence of Joelinton and later Andy Carroll up front further kept our defenders on their toes.
For our part, Kovacic curled a shot just over and Alonso’s header called Darlow back into action, but we were struggling to regain control. Tuchel’s solution was to bring on N’Golo Kante’s energy as an extra body in midfield, as well as Reece James’ more defensively minded approach in place of Hudson-Odoi at wing-back.
However, Kepa still had to produce his best save of the day to tip away a bouncing Willock header at the back post and Almiron should have done better when sending a volley high and wide at the near post.
Much like against Barnsley in the FA Cup the previous week, we had to show defensive resilience in the last 10 minutes of the game, and did well to ensure Newcastle rarely looked like scoring the goal they needed to get back into the match. That gave us even more reason to be grateful for Werner’s second goal before half-time, as it could have been a far nervier ending without the margin of a two-goal lead.
We are back in Premier League action on Saturday, when we travel to Southampton for a 12.30pm kick-off, before the Champions League returns for 2021 when we face Atletico Madrid in the first leg of our last-16 tie in Bucharest three days later.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen, Rudiger; Hudson-Odoi (James 77), Jorginho, Kovacic, Alonso; Mount (Kante 70), Werner; Abraham (Giroud 20)
Unused subs: Mendy, Zouma, Emerson, Chilwell, Ziyech, Pulisic
Scorers: Giroud 31, Werner 38
Newcastle United (4-2-3-1): Darlow; Krafth, Clark, Lascelles (c), Lewis; Shelvey, Hayden; Willock (Carroll 79), Almiron, Saint-Maximin (Fraser 72); Gayle (Joelinton 64)
Unused subs: Dubravka, Dummett, M Longstaff, Ritchie, Murphy, S Longstaff
Referee: Peter Bankes