NEWCASTLE , ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Daniel Sturridge of Chelsea salutes the fans at the end of the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Chelsea at the Sports Direct Arena on December 3, 2011 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
First things first: Yes, the game would have been very different if David Luiz had been sent off in the fourth minute. If his foul on Demba Ba was a foul (and not, for example, called off for offside), there's no way he should have stayed on the pitch. For some reason Mike Dean decided he was going to average the punishments and produced a yellow card, which was obviously the wrong call one way or another, and Newcastle have every right to feel rather aggrieved after that. If we're going to complain about the Queens Park Rangers match we have to accept that the Magpies were somewhere between unlucky and screwed there.
That said, if you've been paying attention to the media, they're supposed to be one of the top candidates to knock Chelsea off their top-four perch, a status which based on the subsequent 86 minutes was hardly deserved. The hosts had a number of opportunities to test Petr Cech (they ended up hitting the woodwork three times!) but on balance weren't particularly close to deserving anything from the match. Only the excellent Tim Krul stood between a close game and a Chelsea rout, and even his magical powers wore off towards the end.
Anyway, the first action of note after a decent spell of the Blues knocking the ball about was when Peter Lovenkrands played Demba Ba through only for the former West Ham striker to be sat on by David Luiz. There's some question as to whether or not he was offside (I don't think he was), but if that was a foul it was an easy straight red card. Instead, Dean gave a booking* and a free kick, which was clearly absurd. Nothing came from Ryan Taylor's effort.
*One which will result in his suspension against Manchester City, which might possibly be a relief.
From then on, the first half was mostly about Danny Sturridge. With Fabricio Coloccini struggling at left centre back and Ryan Taylor struggling as a football player, Sturridge had acres of space on the right side throughout the first half, and caused Newcastle all manner of problems. Juan Mata was particularly adept at picking him out, sending the 21-year-old clean through something like fifteen billion times before Alan Pardew wised up to his antics and closed the space after the break.
Sturridge's play was the catalyst behind most of the good things Chelsea did in the first half. He won a 14th minute penalty with Frank Lampard missed thanks to an excellent save by Krul, who tipped the weak effort onto the post. Sturridge himself met the woodwork with a near post shot shortly thereafter. Then began an epic personal contest between the young striker and the Great Wall of Krul - the final tally would reveal that the Dutch goalkeeper saved three one on ones, although it would be Sturridge who'd have the last laugh.
Demba Ba very nearly got the first, however, forcing Petr Cech into a great save and then a few minutes later nipping in behind (no, I don't know how) David Luiz to head the ball against the post. John Terry very nearly kicked the ball in off his partner for an own goal when he attempted to clear it, too. I guess I should talk about David Luiz at some point, so I might as well do it here: His first half was complete pants, but he was quite good in the second. That is all.
Apart from the scares from Ba, the hosts hadn't really done much going forward, with Chelsea's defensive line save a certain poufy-haired Brazilian all putting in strong performances. The other end of the pitch looked far more likely to be where the game's first goal would be scored, and so it was to prove when the Blues caught out Newcastle with a quick throw to Juan Mata, whose cross was met with a lovely header by Didier Drogba to make it 1-0. The fact that Coloccini had been pulled off due to injury was surely helpful there.
That's how it would stay in the first half, which was one of the better periods of football we've seen from the club all season. Things got a little nervous after the interval, with Newcastle looking far more dangerous going forwards, but Chelsea still had plenty of chances with Didier Drogba missing a sitter and then Ramires being denied by Krul on a one on one. In between those two chances, Drogba managed to rattle his own crossbar with what would have been a very off little own goal.
Newcastle would rattle the woodwork again, with Shola Ameobi lashing a lovely 20-yard shot off the angle of post and bar with Cech well beaten, but they were slowing now and the introduction of new legs in the form of Salomon Kalou, Raul Meireles and Fernando Torres would pay dividends for the Blues, who scored two late goals to wrap up the points.
For the first, Torres looked to be through but after a set of absolutely insane decisions managed to finally do something sensible and pass the ball back for Kalou to sweep in via Krul's outstretched hand. That goal put the result beyond Newcastle, who then went further down after Daniel Sturridge finally aimed a shot somewhere that wasn't straight at Krul, curling the ball into the bottom corner with virtually his last kick of the game.
3-0 probably wasn't a fair scoreline - Chelsea by no means deserved a clean sheet and Newcastle by no means deserved to concede less than five goals - but the win was certainly the right result. Despite some defensive frailties, this was probably Chelsea's most important game of the season so far. They're back and comfortable in the top four, which is a huge relief, and now they have huge matches against Valencia and the Champions League and then Manchester City to worry about.
One win down, two more to go...
Chelsea's man of the match?
Didier Drogba (25 votes)
John Terry (84 votes)
Juan Mata (114 votes)
Oriol Romeu (33 votes)
Danny Sturridge (112 votes)
Other (10 votes)
378 total votes