Chelsea moved to within just a point of third-placed Tottenham Hotspur with a 2-1 win over Newcastle United.
It took Chelsea less than 10 minutes to take the lead with Pedro racing onto a long ball from David Luiz before lobbing Martin Dubravka.
But, Newcastle equalised five minutes before half-time through Ciaran Clark who rose highest from a corner to head past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Chelsea retook the lead 10 minutes into the second half when Willian cut onto his right foot inside the area, sending a curling effort into the net.
And that would be enough for Chelsea to move six points clear of Arsenal in fifth. But what did we learn from the night?
1. Who needs Fabregas when you’ve got Luiz?
On Friday, Chelsea said goodbye to one of the most creative players the Premier League has ever seen as Cesc Fabregas left for Monaco.
Following the sale questions arose regarding how Chelsea will replace the Spaniard’s creative ability and to find gaps where no one else can. Step up David Luiz.
David Luiz has provided the assist for each of Chelsea’s last two goals in the Premier League.
What a glorious ping that was for Pedro. 🤤 pic.twitter.com/vrarD2VMw6
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 12, 2019
In the opening stages of the game Chelsea looked like they would struggle to break down a tough defence without a recognised centre-forward and already needed a new way to goal.
With the ball in his own half – Luiz felt the best alternative was a direct route – he sent a wonderful long pass through to Pedro. The Spaniard took the ball down neatly before lobbing Dubravka from close range to force Newcastle to change tactics early on. What makes the assist even more ridiculous is Luiz doesn’t seem to be looking at the ball when he makes the pass to Pedro.
This wasn’t a freak event either, with Luiz also assisting Chelsea’s last Premier League goal against Crystal Palace on December 28 in similar vein. Then, it was a long pass to N’Golo Kante over the Palace defence, with the Frenchman showing coolness to beat the goalkeeper.
2. Luiz shows he’s Jekyll and Hyde once more
Saturday evening’s game perfectly summed up David Luiz at Chelsea. The Brazilian started the first half with a brilliant no-look assist to Pedro which looked to put Chelsea in control of the game.
But Luiz ended the opening 45 minutes having played a part in Newcastle’s equaliser. While it was by no means completely Luiz’s fault, the Brazilian arguably should have done better to prevent Clark from getting his head on Matt Ritchie’s corner.
David Luiz is the only player who can go from outrageous no-look passing to apparent no-look defending in one half of football. 🙃 pic.twitter.com/Qfu1Yf7RcO
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) January 12, 2019
There appeared to be little communication between Luiz and his centre-back partner Antonio Rudiger as the ball came in and neither made a solid enough attempt to challenge Clark for the ball.
Nothing should be taken away from Clark’s brilliant header, but one of Luiz or Rudiger challenging would have undoubtedly put pressure on the Irishman and could have caused a different outcome.
This was the David Luiz that Gary Neville once compared to a 12-year-old playing PlayStation, not the one PSG forked out £50m on, or Chelsea spent £34m to bring back to Stamford Bridge.
Luiz does have some incredible attributes as a player, but none of them truly help him as a centre-back.
3. Newcastle’s lack of goalscorer proves costly again
Newcastle have not bad the best start to 2019, losing for the second time in three games, but it could have been so different. The fixtures have been tough for Newcastle, with Manchester United and Chelsea sandwiched either side of an FA Cup tie with Blackburn – which ended in a draw – but the Blues were certainly there for the taking.
Newcastle are looking for only their 2nd league win at Stamford Bridge in the last 32 years pic.twitter.com/oRds6MNyhN
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) January 12, 2019
Despite taking an early lead, Chelsea looked toothless in attack and vulnerable in defence and a better side would have punished them. But Newcastle were not a better side and haven’t shown any signs this season of being one.
The Magpies are the Premier League’s second-lowest scorers with 16 goals, with only bottom club Huddersfield Town (13) scoring fewer. What makes this worse is that their second-top scorer with three goals is centre-back Clark who was playing just his 11th game of the season.
Salomon Rondon leads the way for Newcastle with five but did not look like adding to his tally, with the better chances falling to Ayoze Perez who has scored just twice this season. And with the finishing on show at Stamford Bridge it was clear to see why.
Newcastle are in for a relegation fight among all their other problems, and it’s not one they will escape easily, if at all, unless changes are made.
4. Chelsea need to give up on false nine
Once again, the biggest problem for Chelsea was caused by their lack of a recognised striker. Eden Hazard occupied the false nine role from the start against Newcastle, but his winger instincts often found him moving out wide.
As a result, Chelsea’s wingers had no focal point in the box to cross to, which meant either balls were wasted or the Blues had to resort to passing around the final third without really worrying Newcastle’s defenders.
While Alvaro Morata has not had the best luck in front of goal for Chelsea, and Olivier Giroud is perhaps a bit too slow for Sarrismo, the presence of either inside the box would have seen Newcastle’s defence tested, making the most of the crossing abilities of Chelsea’s full-backs.
Even if Sarri wishes to continue with false nine, the Italian should look at playing Pedro in that area. The Spaniard showed good goalscoring instinct to latch onto Luiz’s long ball, and composure to lob Dubravka from close range.
Though he is an effective right-winger, possibly Chelsea’s best-suited for Sarrismo, playing Pedro in the middle would genuinely open up opportunity for Callum Hudson-Odoi to play out wide as he has in the Blues’ past two games.
Hazard did eventually show some worth in the second half, setting up Willian for his 10th assist of the season, in turn matching Lionel Messi as the only player in Europe’s top five leagues to have double figures in both goals and assists, but the Belgian was otherwise average before being taken off late on.
Eden Hazard has provided 10 Premier League assists in a single season for the first time since his debut campaign:
2012/13: 🅰️ 11 assists
2018/19: 🅰️ 10 assists
Chasing that personal best. pic.twitter.com/Sn7nwGplVr
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 12, 2019
The same can be said for Willian who, despite scoring the winner with his first league goal since October, failed to excite and only gave Hudson-Odoi further reason to believe he should be starting for Chelsea.
5. Sarri is doing his all to keep Callum Hudson-Odoi
Going into the New Year, Hudson-Odoi had played just six games for Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri, four of which had come in the Europa League. The teenager has been tipped to go to the very top of football and, as such, would have been hoping for more playing time this season after seeing the likes of Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson thriving abroad.
As a result, the 18-year-old has been heavily linked with a permanent move to Bayern Munich this summer, with the German super club openly admitting their interest – much to Sarri’s annoyance. And it appears Hudson-Odoi is entertaining thoughts of a move away.
This is not something fans of the club want, having seen young players fail to break through at Chelsea in the past, and Sarri seems to agree. Having previously claimed Hudson-Odoi was not ready for the Premier League, the Italian recently spoke highly of the youngster.
Bringing Hudson-Odoi on with 10 minutes to go, Sarri has now played the youngster in three consecutive games for the first time – including two starts against Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur.
Whether this will be enough to persuade Hudson-Odoi to stay at Chelsea remains to be seen, but Sarri is very clearly doing his all to keep the youngster.