Chelsea's defeat perfect present for EPL

Chelsea's defeat perfect present for EPL

The invincible dream is dead, but the title race is very much alive.

The alarm clock rings loudly across the English Premier League. It's a new day and the competition has reawakened in time for Christmas.

Chelsea were never realistically going to complete a domestic season undefeated, but the fact that their run has ended before the helter-skelter mayhem of the festive fixture pile-up adds a spring to the step.

Honestly, Newcastle have delivered the perfect Christmas present.

Twenty-three unbeaten games threatened to make a mockery of the title race, making it a Chelsea procession by the New Year.

As even Jose Mourinho admitted before kick-off, unbeaten records are footnotes, amusing anecdotes and stats for the pub quiz - only the title matters.

And now, the title race actually matters.

The Chelsea manager could even afford a wry smile at the final whistle. Now he doesn't have to talk about that invincible nonsense any more.

More importantly, he doesn't have to go to the North-East of England any more either.

To most Londoners, the English North-East is a remote, inhospitable environment with unintelligible residents and food that's hard to stomach.

At St James' Park, Chelsea knew the feeling.

At Sunderland and again last night, they found the terrain tricky and struggled to communicate. The natives up north believe in shaming the southern softies. It's a badge of honour.

The Magpies threw everything against the unbeaten Blues in a dogged display.

Eden Hazard gave Daryl Janmaat the early runaround so often it was a wonder the Newcastle right back wasn't seeing stars, while Cesc Fabregas was like a runny nose during the rain season. He was everywhere.

And yet, Newcastle held out Hazard, Oscar, Willian and the kitchen sink. Chelsea rarely attack in waves. They attack in tsunamis. They were relentless, rarely allowing their opponents to come up for air.

But if there was a breathless Blue it was Diego Costa, who was surprisingly listless for the most part. Chelsea's final third lacked a final product.

Newcastle's defending was resolute, but karma can be cruel. On the stroke of half-time, goalkeeper Robert Elliot pulled a thigh and inadvertently pulled an early Christmas cracker for the visitors.

Chelsea's apparent gift was 21-year-old goalkeeper Jak Alnwick, making his competitive debut for Newcastle. But the joke was on the visitors.

Subsitute Papiss Cisse, on the field for less than four minutes, found himself tapping in from close range after calamitous defending.

In the 57th minute, Sammy Ameobi galloped past an oblivious Branislav Ivanovic. His low cross found Gary Cahill's outstretched right leg, then it found Cahill's left leg, then it found the gap between Cahill's legs and bobbled along the six-yard line towards Cisse.

The Senegalese striker couldn't miss.

WORRY

Despite Chelsea's superior possession, their lack of attacking dynamism must be a worry for Mourinho. They had the panache, but not enough pace.

Without Nemanja Matic, who was suspended, his irrepressible drive was replaced by Jon Obi Mikel's dithering.

Fabregas remains the chief magician, but is a less effective showman without his able assistant. There's just not enough magic without Matic.

Mourinho's decision to send on Didier Drogba to share Costa's burden was an acknowledgement that his side's power was let down by a bit of a powder puff attack.

But that's not to downplay the frantic, ferocity of the final minutes. The Toon Army were hit by that Chelsea tsunami.

Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini threw every body part at the ball, Hazard hit the post and then, perhaps inevitably, Newcastle wrapped up the unlikely victory on the counter-attack.

In the 78th minute, Sissoko slipped the ball across to Cisse, who thumped the ball into an unguarded net.

Cue confusing, calamitous chaos. After a superb game, Taylor earned himself a second yellow in the 81st minute.

Fingernails bitten down to the stub were soon gnawed to the bone when Drogba headed in the subsequent free-kick.

But Newcastle held on, thanks to their heroes Cisse, Alnwick and the back four.

More importantly, they brought the title race back from the dead.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Dec 07, 2014.
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