Battle-weary Chelsea fall to Newcastle striker Papiss Cissé's classic brace
Chelsea 0 Newcastle United 2
Roman Abramovich has always wanted to win the Champions League. Now, for the first time since he bought Chelsea, he has to win the damn thing.
Should Chelsea fail in the final in Munich on 19 May it looks like it will be farewell to the planet's most lucrative club competition and off to the relative backwaters of the Europa League for Abramovich's great project – approximate investment so far, £1bn and counting. Their league position will surely not be enough to save them after last night's defeat.
With two games to play, they are now in sixth place and four points adrift of Tottenham and Newcastle ahead of them who are much better placed to take fourth, or even third, place. As he stared gloomily through the rain from a seat in his executive suite last night, Abramovich will have recognised that his club has just one card left to play.
To reach the Champions League next season, after nine successive years in the competition, they must beat Bayern Munich in their own stadium and deny the fourth-placed Premier League team their place. It make 19 May the ultimate high-stakes night, encompassing Chelsea's past – their desire to win this trophy for the first time in their history – as well as their future.
Last night they were beaten by two exceptional goals from one of the Premier League's men of the moment, Papiss Cissé. He cost £9m from Freiburg in January and now has 13 goals in 12 games. Abramovich, who will remember the 10s of millions he shelled out on the likes of Adrian Mutu, Mateja Kezman and Andrei Shevchenko, must wonder why no-one recommended him the services of the 26-year-old from Senegal.
The first Cissé goal was technically superb; the second, in time added on at the end of the game, will be in the top five goals scored all season. He took the ball on the right-angle of the left side of Chelsea's area and lashed a shot with the outside of his right foot that dipped over Petr Cech's head and into the far corner. It was one of those goals that silenced the whole ground for a heartbeat, before the away end erupted.
To put Cissé's impact on Newcastle's season in perspective, his 13 goals in 12 games are one better than Torres' total contribution to Chelsea in the 64 appearances he has made for the club since he signed last January. To be fair to Torres, he looked sharp in the first half but this was a night that Roberto Di Matteo really needed a goal from him - and it did not come.
In the end, the Chelsea caretaker manager had to roll out the big guns he had hoped to keep fresh for Saturday's FA Cup final. Didier Drogba, Juan Mata and Frank Lampard all came off the bench for Chelsea but their best effort in the second half was a header by John Terry that was cleared off the line by Davide Santon.
The win for Tottenham last night gives them and Newcastle the greatest momentum of the four sides – including Chelsea and Arsenal – challenging for the two remaining Champions League places. Alan Pardew's team have a formidable task against Manchester City on Sunday at St James' Park but in this kind of form they have a chance.
Cissé's second goal came in 10 minutes of second half injury-time after treatment for Cheick Tioté who caught an elbow across the head from John Obi Mikel as they both went up for a header. Tioté had kicked Mikel before then and the Chelsea player was aware of another robust challenge coming in but there was nothing malicious about his challenge, and Pardew agreed with that.
The referee Mark Halsey did not even give a foul but he was soon waving the Newcastle medical staff on with some urgency. Tioté's head snapped back as he hit the turf, having fallen virtually horizontally. He was carried off with an oxygen mask on his face but recovered in time to watch the end of the game.
The substitutes' bench named by Di Matteo yesterday said a great deal about Chelsea's current punishing run of fixtures. Drogba, Ashley Cole, Lampard, Mata and Salomon Kalou were among those on it – all of them apart from Drogba played in Sunday's game with Queen's Park Rangers. Between then and Saturday's FA Cup final, they could not be expected to do it all over again.
It meant that Di Matteo left his team a little under-clubbed, especially in terms of the attacking creativity of Lampard, Mata and Cole, and it showed in the first half.
The best Chelsea offered in the first half came from Torres who worked hard right across the line of Newcastle's defence. It was his cross from the left, with the outside of his right boot that Daniel Sturridge scuffed wide of the goal. It was Torres' cross from the right that Florent Malouda headed wide of Tim Krul's goal on 38 minutes.
By then, Newcastle had taken the lead through Cissé who lifted the ball off the deck with his right foot and struck a firm shot past Cech with his left. It was a beautifully executed goal. Chelsea needed to respond quickly but, if anything, Newcastle looked the more comfortable. Pardew had them in a fairly orthodox 4-4-2 formation.
In the final two minutes of the first half, Cech did well to push away a low shot from Cissé that was hit to his left side. Then Demba Ba hit the bar from inside the area and suddenly Chelsea were feeling fortunate to go in at half-time just one goal behind.
At half-time, Di Matteo brought off Daniel Sturridge who had struggled to have any effect at all and Mata came on in his place. Drogba was on with 30 minutes left to play and by the time Chelsea got to 75 minutes, and were still a goal behind, Lampard was also summoned from the bench too.
It meant at the end, Chelsea had Drogba and Torres on the pitch which always hints at desperation. Newcastle were disciplined and Cissé's second goal meant there was no coming back for the home team. It is only the second defeat of Di Matteo's 17-game reign but he could not deny that it was a significant one.
Man of the match Cissé.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee M Halsey (Lancashire).
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