Chelsea were able to call on Branislav Ivanovic for this game to partner with John Terry. This would ensure stability at the back. Ashley Cole was rested for Ryan Bertrand to come in and Jose Bosingwa at right full back completed the back four. The squad had to be rotated, keeping in mind the FA Cup Final, although Roberto Di Matteo suggested prior to the match that he would not do so. but the surprise inclusion of Florent Malouda, playing behind Torres, belied any claims by RDM.
As for Newcastle, James Perch replaced Danny Simpson at right full back. Manager Alan Pardew seemed to have reverted to his 4-4-2 combination that has served him well this season. Both Ba and Cisse are quick and mercurial forwards. The context to this contest was scintillating. A win for either side meant that their path to a top four finish became a trifle easier. Lose the game and play catch up.
The game began with both teams sparring nervously. Chelsea were the early aggressors at Newcastle goal with Torres showing a few deft touches. But s Cisse turned on the style with an exquisite finish at 19 minutes. This was just what the doctor order for Pardew's men. Suddenly, they moved the ball faster and Chelsea were scampering to have possession.
Roman Abramovich was visibly happy at the Torres masterclass against QPR on Sunday. His presence in the stands meant that Chelsea boys needed to find a win for their boss. Against this Newcastle side playing ever so well, the task was far from simple.
Cisse finished the game with another goal towards the end. A polished performance from the Newcastle side against a Chelsea side that was chopped and changed to maintain fresh legs on the pitch.
What does it mean for the teams?
It is one thing to play well against 'lesser' teams in the Premier League and accumulate points and another to beat teams that are traditionally strong. Newcastle United showed that they fear none by beating Chelsea. Spurs win over Bolton ensured enough spice in the top four contest. WIth Everton and title-contenders Manchester City to follow, Newcastle can still go wrong. But with performances like these, the future does look bright.
As for Chelsea, a Cup final in two days time means they do not have time to reflect on the loss. Win the final and things are rosy in the short term. I fear a lot of Chelsea players must consider putting in one good shift in the Champions League final over playing their heart out over the course of two-three league games to get there. Of course, this is just guesswork but toothless Chelsea display against Newcastle seemed to suggest that there may be an element of truth in it.
One has to admit that this season has thrown up so many interesting sub plots. The title chase is going down to the wire. Top four finish has a premium not seen in earlier seasons. So many top teams have gone wrong so many times this season that the top four finish is for three clubs to grab.
One sincerely hopes that the remaining games live up to the excitement generated by the last few games played between these battling teams. After all, this is what the Premier League is all about.686775