Late goals win championships. That is what we are told every season and were told again yesterday as Manchester United sealed their league title following a season peppered with late winners. This is why Steven Taylor’s late equaliser at Stamford Bridge this afternoon will be particularly exasperating for Chelsea as their disappointing season ends in a whimper with a 2-2 draw at home.
With the title gone it was not surprising to see the likes of Yossi Benayoun, Fernando Torres and Josh McEachran starting for the blues as they, but perhaps not Ancelotti, look towards next season already, symbolically donning next season’s strip.
Chelsea started with a bang, knocking the ball around nicely and then Torres moved sharply from a Frank Lampard corner to get across the front post and flick the ball on for set-piece goal specialist Branislav Ivanovic to grab his sixth of the season and put Chelsea in control.
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Benayoun, given a rare start, looked to rediscover his great understanding with Torres from their Liverpool days, with a fantastic first-time lay off almost putting the Spaniard in on seven minutes. Chelsea really expressed themselves early on, playing with a smile and swagger which has been absent for much of the season. However these smiles soon disappeared as the home sides fragility was easily revealed by a simple free-kick deflecting off Jonas Gutierrez and finding its way past a helpless Petr Cech.
Newcastle’s most creative player Gutierrez was deployed in behind the front two, playing a freer role than usual but soon asked to keep an eye on McEachran who was dictating play from deep, getting himself out of tight situations and showing his impressive vision and passing technique.
Newcastle put together some good counter attacks as they pressed their opponents well and managed to nick the ball in several dangerous positions, with Peter Lovenkrands in particular looking to get his team moving forward at pace. Jose Enrique increasingly looked to get himself into the game, bombing forward and showing a turn of pace that even the spritely Ramires struggled to contain.
The tough tackles started to fly and the bookings mounted up for Chelsea as they found themselves second best after the break, giving away some silly set-pieces around the box. Ancellotti reacted with an unusually bold triple substitution with Didier Drogba the pick of the replacements. His set-piece delivery alone is vital and his link-up play clearly outshone his Spanish counterpart, who was completely anonymous for long stretches of the game.
Newcastle’s defending at set-pieces was poor with Tim Krul never looking like coming to collect and his hesitant decision-making leading to Chelsea’s late goal. However it was Chelsea’s woeful attempt at defending a set-piece which eventually sealed their fate, losing out at the back post and then caught ball-watching to allow S. Taylor the space for an easy headed finish.
A laboured performance from the former champions despite such a bright start will only confirm the disappointment of the season just past for everyone involved with a club in desperate need of a freshen up.