CHELSEA 2 (Giroud 31, Werner 39)
NEWCASTLE UNITED 0
THOMAS TUCHEL was asked about Timo Werner’s dreadful goal drought recently and replied with the old cliché about strikers needing the ball to go in the net off their backside or knee to recover their scoring form. And while his 39th minute strike against a desperately poor Newcastle side was not quite that terrible, a scuffed shot as he fell over at the far post, neither Werner nor his manager will be concerned that it will not be a goal of the month contender.
The most important thing for Werner and Chelsea is that he has finally ended a barren run of 14 Premier League games stretching back three months, and things can only get better.
The goal, his fifth in the league, should allow him to go on and prove he was worth the £45m Chelsea paid RB Leipzig last summer. And it helped put to bed a stubborn but limited Newcastle and move the Blues back into the top four.
Olivier Giroud, on as substitute for Tammy Abraham after the young England forward was injured in the opening quarter, had put Chelsea ahead, and though Werner’s miserable run in front of goal continued when he missed two sitters from ten and six yards in quick succession, he made amends with that confidence boosting strike before half-time. Mason Mount swung in a corner from the right, defender Ciaran Clark’s header only partially cleared the ball, and it fell on to Werner’s right foot as he starting falling at the far post. He was barely a yard out but still his shot was unconvincing enough to be clawed away by Karl Darlow in the Newcastle goal, although referee Peter Bankes ruled the ball had crossed the line.
The German was congratulated by his team-mates with an enthusiasm that suggested they had felt his pain as chance after chance had come and gone for him.
Because even while Werner was missing chances, his effort never wavered, and he set up Giroud’s opener in the 31st minute with a burst of speed and cross from the left that was parried into the Frenchman’s path ten yards from goal. He drilled the ball straight back past Darlow.
The outcome of the match was rarely in doubt, with a Newcastle side now lacking the injured Callum Wilson sliding down the table after a run of nine defeats in their previous 14 games, while Tuchel’s side were on a run of a draw and four victories since he replaced Frank Lampard three weeks ago. He even retained the much-maligned Kepa Arrizabalaga after the Spanish keeper performed well in the FA Cup last week. Tuchel’s faith was repaid with a flawless display from the goalkeeper, who did well to save a powerful free-kick from Jonjo Shelvey and a Joe Willock header late in the game.
But most of the action was at opposite end as Chelsea put Newcastle to the sword. Marcos Alonso set the tone with a low drive that Darlow did well to hold in the third minute, and Dwight Gayle headed Cesar Azpilicueta’s header off his own line.
Abraham headed a cross from Mount wide, Werner shot over after being sent clear by the outstanding Mateo Kovacic, who then put Abraham in on goal. The striker looked certain to score until Jamaal Lascelles made a superb tackle which resulted in Abraham going off shortly afterwards with a knee injury. His replacement Giroud finally broke Newcastle’s resistance, and even then Werner missed a sitter, volleying wide with the goal at his mercy. But the German showed his tenacity and never-say-die spirit to finally earn his reward by scoring six minutes before half-time, his first goal in the league since November 7.
Tuchel has got a good run going at Chelsea, although he has yet to see the best of their other big name signings from last summer. Ben Chilwell and Hakim Ziyech were again unused substitutes last night, and Kai Havertz was not even fit enough to make the bench.
But if Werner’s scruffy goal gets him up and running for the season, Chelsea can start looking at a top four finish, and progress in the Champions League, which returns next week. But for Newcastle, it looks like another struggle to keep out of the relegation zone for the beleagured Steve Bruce.
Chelsea 3-4-3 Kepa 7; Azpilicueta 7, Christensen 6, Rudiger 7; Hudson-Odoi 7 (James 77), Jorginho 7, Kovacic , Alonso 6; Mount 7, Abraham 6 (Giroud 19), Werner 7
Newcastle 4-4-2 Darlow 8; Krafth 6, Lascelles 7, Clark 6, Lewis 6; Willock 6 (Carroll 79), Hayden 6, Shelvey 6; Gayle 5 (Joelinton 64), Almiron 5, Saint Maximin 6 (Fraser 72)
Ref: Peter Bankes