Frank Lampard's second spell in the dug-out ends with a draw on the last day of the season, but there were some promising signs for the future as we were a little unlucky not to have beaten Newcastle United on this occasion.
It was a game of positives and negatives for Chelsea. On the one hand, there were some very promising performances by younger members of our squad, in particular the emerging teenage talent of Lewis Hall at left-back, plus winger Noni Madueke, who provided our biggest attacking threat throughout.
The way we more than matched the team which finished fourth in the Premier League this season to qualify for the Champions League also bodes well for our next campaign.
However, on the other side, many of the issues which have made 2022/23 such a difficult campaign were also apparent, especially during an open but testing first half, before we took more control over proceedings after the break. Some of the loose passes and miscommunication by the Blues in the opening 45 minutes spoke of a team still in the process of rebuilding and getting to know each other.
It was also visible when Newcastle opened the scoring early on, as nobody picked up Anthony Gordon in the middle of the penalty area, allowing him to tap in from close range when Elliot Anderson put a low pass across goal.
Chelsea responded well, though, and deservedly levelled the scores through a combination of intelligent play and a stroke of luck. Enzo Fernandez was smart to spot the opportunity to play in Raheem Sterling on the right from a free-kick, rather than deliver a cross as the visiting defenders were expecting. Instead, Sterling was able to cut inside and send a shot across goal, where it was inadvertently turned in by his England international team-mate Kieran Trippier.
Sterling will consider himself unlucky not to have given us the win, too, as he had one effort clawed out of the top corner by the keeper, another cleared off the line and a third deflected around the post by a defender's arm, only for VAR to decide not to intervene, meaning we end 2022/23 with a draw, but also a relatively positive note after a tough campaign.
Thiago Silva returned to our defence, replacing Wesley Fofana in an otherwise unchanged back four, alongside captain Cesar Azpilicueta, Trevoh Chalobah and Lewis Hall, in front of goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek was the one change in midfield, coming in for Carney Chukwuemeka, as Enzo Fernandez and Conor Gallagher retained their spots. The third and final change by Frank Lampard came in the forward line, where Mykhailo Mudryk made way for Raheem Sterling, who lined up in attack with Kai Havertz and Noni Madueke.
Some of our best performers of the season were recognised before kick-off, as our Player of the Season Thiago Silva, Academy Player of the Season Lewis Hall and Goal of the Season winner Conor Gallagher all received their awards pitchside at Stamford Bridge.
The game started with an open feel, perhaps unsurprising on the last day of the season with neither team having anything to play for. That was summed up by an early end-to-end period, when Sterling was dispossessed trying to charge into the Newcastle box, before our opponents went straight up the pitch for Alexander Isak to force the first save from Kepa, who denied the striker with his legs.
It was on the break that both teams initially looked the most dangerous, Havertz carrying the ball forward and releasing Sterling to run at the defence again, but Fabian Schar recovered in time to make the block.
Less than a minute later, the visitors took the lead. It was another quick attack, Schar launching a long ball out to Allan Saint-Maximin on the left, who in turn passed it on to Anderson. When his low cross came in, Gordon was free in the middle to score past Kepa from close range.
Chelsea weren’t going down without a fight, though, as Madueke went straight on the attack with a twisting run from the right, before eventually winning a corner. That set-piece was met by Thiago Silva, whose header ricocheted and was creeping inside the post before Martin Dubravka somehow got across to claw it away. That triggered a series of Blues corners, but we weren’t able to make them count, Madueke’s fierce volley deflected over the bar the closest we came.
Blues back level
It was a clever free-kick routine which did restore parity. Although it will officially go down as an own goal, Sterling deserves the credit. Enzo was smart in playing a short free-kick to him on the right side of the box, when everyone was expecting the high ball into the middle. Sterling then used his skill to cut inside past his marker to make space for a low shot, which looked like it may have been going narrowly wide before Magpies captain Trippier attempted to clear, only succeeding in slicing it into the back of the net.
That series of events was nearly repeated almost immediately from the restart, as Newcastle were close to a second own goal. This time it was Madueke causing the visitors problems on our right side, driving to the byline before attempting to cut across goal, only for it to hit Matt Targett and bounce just wide of the far post.
There was a bit of a let off for the Blues, when the lively Saint-Maximin’s cross went over a huddle of bodies in the centre to find Miguel Almiron all on his own beyond the back post, but with plenty of time he fired high and wide. Almiron had another chance from a similar position, but his shot lacked conviction and Kepa was able to save.
That meant we went in at the break with the scores level, but Sterling twice thought he’d changed that in added time. Hall’s cross from the left invited the first-time finish, which was heading towards the top corner, but Dubravka somehow got a hand to it and then Sterling’s follow-up on the rebound was cleared off the line by Targett.
The game retained it’s open nature into the opening exchanges of the second half, as neither team was able to conclusively gain the upper hand, although chances were at a premium despite much of the game being played around the two penalty areas.
Chelsea push forward
Gradually, Chelsea came into the ascendancy, as more and more of the game began to be played in Newcastle’s half of the pitch. Opportunities remained sparse, though, as Madueke cut in from the right and curled an ambitious effort a yard wide of the far post, in what was fast becoming one of his best performances for the Blues so far.
Our momentum wasn’t interrupted by changes, as Joao Felix and Carney Chukwuemeka were introduced to add more attacking impetus, although it was Sterling who drew the next save from Dubravka, with a dipping drive from range.
Sterling had another chance and will disappointed not to have hit the target as he diverted Hall’s low cross over the crossbar from a promising position, albeit under pressure, following a strong drive out of midfield by Chukwuemeka. By now it was clear that the home side had taken control, even if the match still seemed to be drifting towards a draw as we entered the final 20 minutes.
Perhaps the best chance to change that fell the way of Sterling. It was Madueke’s persistence in pressuring Dan Burn out wide which created the opening, dispossessing the defender and passing the ball inside to Chukwuemeka, who in turn teed up Sterling. The England international curled an effort towards the far post, which looked goalbound before deflecting wide off a Newcastle player’s arm. However, the referee and VAR decided it wasn’t worthy of a penalty, much to the Blues’ frustration.
We weren’t the only ones who felt we could have grabbed the win, though, as Newcastle hit the woodwork with 10 minutes remaining, when young debutant Lewis Miley’s long-range effort clipped the top of the bar on its way behind.
As it was, both teams would have to be content with ending the season with a draw, but it didn't stop the Chelsea supporters bidding a fond farewell to departing caretaker manager and club legend Frank Lampard at the final whistle.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Chalobah (W. Fofana h-t), Thiago Silva, Hall; Enzo, Loftus-Cheek (Chukwuemeka 59); Madueke (Pulisic 88), Gallagher (Kovacic 70), Sterling; Havertz (Joao Felix 59)
Unused subs: Mendy, Koulibaly, Mudryk, Ziyech
Scorer: Trippier og 27
Newcastle United (4-3-3): Dubravka; Trippier (c), Schar, Botman, Targett (Burn 75); Gordon (Murphy 70), Guimaraes, Anderson (Miley 75); Almiron, Isak (Lewis 88), Saint-Maximin (Wilson 70)
Unused subs: Gillespie, Karius, Dummett, Asby
Scorer: Gordon 9
Referee: Jarred Gillett