Reporting from Stamford Bridge
Seventy-two days ago, Chelsea were on top of the world.
A 3-1 win over Leeds put the Blues top of the Premier League and comfortably in the top four, looking ready to mount a serious title challenge. But not only have Chelsea fallen from the peak of the table, but they have been not been in the Champions League spots since.
So, when Chelsea welcomed Newcastle to Stamford Bridge on Monday, the stakes were high.
Thomas Tuchel’s side knew that a win – even a draw for all it mattered – would see them return to the top four for the first time in two and-a-half months. With four consecutive wins to their name and a dominant record at home against the Magpies, the odds were in the Blues’ favour.
When the teamsheets were distributed across the ground, it was the very first name which stood out the most. As far as lineup shocks go, this was one no-one would have predicted.
Kepa Arrizabalaga, who had started the FA Cup win against Barnsley last Thursday, retained his spot inbetween the sticks. Previously ridiculed and dropped for good under Frank Lampard, the Spaniard was making his first league appearance in four months. A fresh start as promised by Tuchel, and a massive opportunity for Arrizabalaga to prove his worth as Chelsea’s number one.
Chelsea started brilliantly, raring to go in what would be a tough test against Steve Bruce’s Newcastle. All the chances were going the Blues’ way, as an onslaught of corners almost resulted in the opening goal. As has become customary under Tuchel, it was all guns blazing from the first whistle, hungry and motivated to break the deadlock.
Tammy Abraham, who was the matchwinner in Yorkshire midweek, started brightly, but his evening would soon be cut short by injury. A chance for Olivier Giroud, who had started the last league outing against Sheffield United, to come in and lead the line.
Tuchel had put his trust into Giroud, and 11 minutes later, he was rewarded.
Timo Werner burst down the left flank, sending a dangerous ball into the box. The Newcastle defence made a real mess of it, parrying it into Giroud’s path who smashed it home. Double digits for the Frenchman this season, and a lead that was long coming for Chelsea.
With the floodgates open, a second goal looked more likely by the minute. No player on the pitch needed a goal more than Werner, but his chances so far had all gone begging. Could this finally be his day?
As the ball floated across the box and over to the back post, Werner found himself unmarked yet off balance. Already falling to the ground, he hooked his shot goalbound before Karl Darlow clawed it away from the line. But it was too little, too late. It was over the line. Timo Werner had finally scored.
His first goal since 10th January, his first Premier League goal in 15 games and his long-awaited 10th goal for the club. What a sensation.
With a 2-0 lead going into the break, the aim of the game was now to control, preserve and complete. Chelsea had not been in this situation yet under Tuchel, but professional as ever, they saw out the game. While Newcastle were much better in the second half, actually threatening Arrizabalaga in goal, it was routine defensive duties for the back three, seeing out a well-earned clean sheet and superb three points.
Chelsea are back in the top four after long last, leapfrogging Liverpool and returning who where, at the very least, they belong. Another excellent display in the Tuchel era, a revival for Kepa and even a goal for Werner – it could not have gone any better.
Now they are back in the Champions League spots, how far can they go?
Since Tuchel’s arrival, only league leaders Manchester City sit above Chelsea in the form table, a remarkable testament to the impact of the new manager. The gap between royal blue and sky blue is a hefty 11 points, but sitting just four points off second-place Manchester United, Chelsea can push on for greater things this season.
Unbeaten under Tuchel, five wins on the bounce and just one goal conceded, Chelsea look better than they have ever been this season. The games will get tougher, the challenges will intensify, but if early signs are anything to go by, Chelsea are in a great position.
We are seeing the very first indications of what Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea are capable of, and there is certainly much more to come. With Tuchel, the sky is the limit for Chelsea.
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