Chelsea all season have been doing things the hard way, but this time, they might just have to do the hardest task of the season the hardest way possible. Chelsea’s Top Four aspirations are all, bar a miraculous, titanic shift, but over, meaning the only way to qualify for next year’s elite European competition is by winning it in two weeks time.
Papiss Demba Cisse made it 13 in 12 league games since his winter move, and ultimately two special goals undid Chelsea, on a night where heads might have been turned towards the FA Cup Final on Saturday.
With Tottenham playing at the same time, this was a real chance for Chelsea to steal back at least fifth place, potentially fourth. But instead, the sixth place looks all but cemented, on a night where Roman Abramovich was in the stands watching.
The goal quota was clearly used up after the 6-1 drubbing of QPR over the weekend, but Chelsea did field a decent side, albeit with six changes. Bertrand, Ivanovic, Mikel, Ramires and Malouda all came in, while Torres continued, hoping to continue where he left off after his hat-trick.
Ultimately the Spaniard was Chelsea’s best performer. His early running gave Chelsea a great spell in the first fifteen minutes, but without the creativity and telepathic partnership he mutually shares with Juan Mata, there was no avail. Chelsea know all too well that possession means nothing, and so Roberto Di Matteo was desperately urging his players to make one count.
Despite revitalisations of players such as Mikel and Torres under Di Matteo, one player that certainly seems to have taken a step back is Daniel Sturridge. His greed and selfishness has changed Chelsea fan’s perceptions of him lately, and it was only furthered with a wasted shot wide of Krul’s goal.
But Papiss Demba Cisse was on hand to show Sturridge – and Chelsea – how to score. Santon cut in and found the Senegalese, who took one touch and rifled it high into Cech’s goal to give Newcastle a lead against the run of play. A goal more out of stunning play than bad defending, but Chelsea had to settle for the deficit.
The true measure of the progress made under Di Matteo would have been a turnaround in the scoreline. But this never took off.
Newcastle looked assured after their 4-0 defeat to Wigan over the weekend, and with a two-strong striking partnership in Ba and Cisse, Newcastle caused Chelsea many problems.
Tiote and Cabaye were their standard, dogged selves, marshalling the midfield to perfection, but when Chelsea had a chance, they failed to take it.
Torres did well to escape the challenges of several players, and his lovely cross was headed inches wide by Malouda. Had it been role-reversal, perhaps the Spaniard could have steered it home.
Newcastle were not done: Ba evaded challenges and forced Cech to a smart, low save, before rattling the crossbar from the resulting corner, before the half trickled out.
Words would have been said at half-time, and Di Matteo recognised the urgency needed. Mata came on for Sturridge, in the hope to inject life into Chelsea.
Mikel got his revenge for an earlier challenge by Tiote, but this looked more serious, with the midfielder needing a stretcher after landing awkwardly.
The seven-minute delay only seemed to have helped Newcastle’s cause. Chelsea were slow and off-the-pace, showing little urgency.
Drogba came on to partner Torres in a 4-3-1-2 formation, Mata just behind, but this was no time for experimentation. The strong Ivorian appealed for a penalty in vain, but despite that, Krul was still to be really untested.
When Chelsea did have their chance, someone was there to cover, in this instance, Davide Santon cleared a John Terry header off the line.
Ten minutes of added time approached. As expected, Chelsea attacked, but Newcastle did not succumb to the pressure; instead, poured salt into Chelsea’s gaping wounds.
A throw-in and a lay-off later, Cisse was 35 yards away from goal, but, with the outside of his boot, swerved the ball past Cech’s helpless reach. The striker seemed surprised himself it had gone in, but the scoreline was all that mattered: 2-0 Newcastle.
As for Chelsea, an FA Cup win, along with a Champions League trophy in the cabinet, and the season might still be regarded as a success.