LONDON — Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Newcastle United was comfortable, but it was a night to break the drought and restore confidence. Timo Werner has stood out and Kepa Arrizabalaga has regained Thomas Tuchel’s confidence in him after his first start in the Premier League since October.
While Newcastle had little to offer up front, it was a near perfect night for Chelsea. The only downside was the injury to Tammy Abraham in the first half, but her replacement Olivier Giroud scored the first goal and Werner the second. Six games are now unbeaten under Tuchel and, more importantly, the strikers have started scoring goals – a first in the league under the new coach.
After 13 Premier League games, the final seconds of the goal drought were perhaps the most trying for Werner.
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Chelsea were already 1-0 ahead at the time after Giroud’s opener, in which Werner played a key role, put Emile Kraft on target, and the scrum allowed Giroud to comfortably finish from close range and almost get a corner. Werner was at the far post when the cross came in and slid in, but he was able to push the ball over the line despite Carl Darlow’s attempts to get the ball back.
Then VAR checked whether the bullet had hit Giroud’s hand on its way to Werner. While waiting for the decision, he told his teammates in the dugout that he was lucky his withdrawal was denied. Fortunately for the German international community, the call came back in Chelsea’s favour. Werner… …with lips bleeding from an earlier blow to the face… took a brief look at the sky, then exhaled.
This marked the end of his non-aerobatic career. Coincidentally, the goal was scored in the 1000th minute. It was his worst goal-less run since returning to VfB Stuttgart in the 2014/15 season. Six seasons in a row, and it was his record number of goals at RB Leipzig that led Chelsea to spend £45 million to get him out of the Bundesliga. After scoring 34 goals in 45 games with Leipzig last season, he remains well below expectations this season with Chelsea in 23 league games.
But this flaw in the final product was not worth trying. Werner sometimes put on a frustrated and sad face at Chelsea. He throws himself on the ground, constantly balancing in half space, trying to play on the shoulders of defenders and cut down the flank. He tried at Chelsea, but it didn’t do him much good under Frank Lampard. Under Tuchel he showed he was a player to keep an eye on with two assists against Sheffield United on 7. The first signs of improvement in February, and this rush will be like a heavy weight on his shoulders.
After 1,000 minutes without a goal in the Premier League, Timo Werner scored the winning goal against Chelsea in Newcastle. Getty
I was happy to finally score a goal, Werner said after the game. There is still a long way to go before the end of the season. As a striker you always want to score a goal.
It was very easy for Chelsea and goalkeeper Kepa. The world’s most expensive goalkeeper made his Premier League debut for the first time in 17 years. October, where he missed three Southampton games. Since then Edouard Mendy has taken his place, but his match appearances are limited to cup matches. But after Kepa’s impressive performance against Barnsley last week in the FA Cup, Tuchel continued his policy of giving players a second chance to impress and the Spanish international restored his confidence. But Mandy remains Chelsea’s number one, as Tuchel said after the game.
Kepa will need a wake-up call to clear up any doubts about his long-term future in West London, but just as Tuchel did with Marcos Alonso, Jorginho and Antonio Rudiger, he has put Lampard’s position behind him and made the team prove he is worthy of being part of its long-term plans. Kepa did well, parrying a Jonjo Shelvey free-kick and a superb header from Joe Willock, but it remains to be seen whether this was the start of his rebirth or a chance for him to impress in the showcase.
While Newcastle were disjointed and showed a lack of cohesion, Chelsea continue to build under Tuchel and we are starting to see the first signs of what they will look like in the long run. Mateo Kovacic is the heart of the team and dictates the tempo from midfield. His long, wide balls or short, clean passes are usually the catalyst for a team’s transition play. Alonso made the punt on the left side, Callum Hudson-Odoi on the right. Mason Mount is dangerous again – he should have scored Chelsea’s third goal of the first half, but his shot went wide – while the defence seems assured.
However, it remains to be seen who Tuchel’s first striker will be, or exactly how Hakim Ziyeh or Christian Pulisic will fit in. Pulisic was an unused substitute – Reece James was a late replacement for Hudson Odey and managed just 84 minutes out of a possible 450 in the league under his new coach. He still has to work to get back the form of late last season.
Today, the first substitution already took place in the first half due to an injury and Christian has made a difficult decision whether to start again after the cup game or leave the bench and continue with 11 players, Tuchel said. This complicates things because you don’t want to use the third switch too early. So we did what we always do in the middle of the game, we just think about what can help you win. Christian absolutely deserved to start, he absolutely deserved to get in, so I hope he continues, and I absolutely believe that he will have a big impact on us and will have a big impact on us in the future.
Restoring Werner’s confidence was one of the top items on Tuchel’s to-do list when he accepted his post at Chelsea FC in late January.
RB Leipzig’s £45m signing was not needed for lack of commitment, but it was the end product that Werner missed out on. But on that cold night in West London, he delivered a performance worthy of his reputation and promise: he kept the Newcastle defenders on their toes and finally scored the goal he had worked so hard for.
Timo has been crucial for us today, Tuchel said.