Chelsea charged up as hit men set stage for Highbury showdown

Chelsea 4 - Newcastle United 0

At this time of the year, with the January transfer window coiled like a rattlesnake in the path just ahead, managers and scouts and customers turn their attention to new talent. Chelsea, though, are in the happy position of possessing a squad that reveals no apparent weakness, a fact that is not lost on Graeme Souness. "They have a squad filled with top players and are the team to catch now," he said after Newcastle's 4-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. "But you would be a fool to say that no one can catch them. I don't think people in Manchester and north London think the game is up yet."

At this time of the year, with the January transfer window coiled like a rattlesnake in the path just ahead, managers and scouts and customers turn their attention to new talent. Chelsea, though, are in the happy position of possessing a squad that reveals no apparent weakness, a fact that is not lost on Graeme Souness. "They have a squad filled with top players and are the team to catch now," he said after Newcastle's 4-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. "But you would be a fool to say that no one can catch them. I don't think people in Manchester and north London think the game is up yet."

The game was up for Newcastle when Jose Mourinho rang the changes in a team that had been well held in midfield for an hour and been told at half-time there was a possibility that they could lose.

First, Didier Drogba was introduced in place of Eidur Gudjohnsen, then Mateja Kezman and Wayne Bridge for Tiago and William Gallas. Until then a depleted Newcastle had held their own, outnumbering Chelsea four to three in midfield and posing enough of a threat to justify Mourinho's interval warning.

Where they had overhit passes and failed to feed Arjen Robben with enough of the ball, Chelsea were transformed. In the 63rd minute Claude Makelele's lofted forward pass was flicked on by Drogba and Frank Lampard cushioned it with his chest before volleying the opener low past Shay Given.

Six minutes later Lampard was involved again with a perfectly weighted pass from just inside his own half that released Drogba, who brushed Titus Bramble aside to fire Chelsea further ahead. From being well in the game, Newcastle were now a comprehensively beaten team.

It was suggested to Souness that Newcastle simply ran out of legs. He preferred to think that the blows were psychological. "Experienced players ignore the message from their legs," he said. "But we had young ones out there today who felt the strain when things went against us. It's that sort of thing that settles matches, not switches in formation.

"I'm not saying that we deserved to get something out of the game but I think the score was a bit harsh on us. People will read the result and conclude that we were played off the park. But that wasn't the case. For half an hour we were the better team and in the end it came down to lack of concentration in defence. It's something we've got look at. If you leave gaps and get pushed off the ball the way we did, you'll concede goals. That second goal killed us. They picked us off."

The absence of Alan Shearer and Stephen Carr weighed heavily on Newcastle. Little was seen of Patrick Kluivert, who would surely have been brought off had there been adequate cover on the bench. Nevertheless, Newcastle had their moments before the game ran away from them. After 17 minutes Petr Cech in Chelsea's goal distinguished himself with a flying save from Laurent Robert's curling free-kick and Craig Bellamy might have scored when put in by Dyer, who had an excellent game in Newcastle's midfield.

It was the industry of their midfielders that kept Newcastle in the game long enough to force the changes made by Mourinho, although Gudjohnsen should have put Chelsea ahead in the first half when Ronny Johnsen's heavy first touch led to a collision with Bramble and a chance for the Icelander that he rolled just wide of Given's right-hand post.

With a place in the next phase of the Champions' League assured beforetomorrow's visit to Porto, another four-goal haul set up Chelsea for next Sunday's visit to Highbury. "We'll take it as it comes," said Steve Clarke, Mourinho's assistant. "We felt it was important to win this game and the manager has shown that if he needs to make attacking changes he will do so."

The introduction of Bridge had the effect of bringing Robben more into the game and he put it beyond Newcastle's reach with a fine goal in the 89th minute. Put through by Kezman he held off Lee Bowyer's attempted intervention and then turned Steven Taylor before stroking the ball past Given.

When Damien Duff was brought down by Given the penalty was offered to Kezman, who had earlier rattled a post. Kezman, who had not scored in the Premiership, cheekily converted with a chip before disappearing beneath of a pile of blue-clad bodies. "You could see how much they wanted him to score," Clarke said. You could see Chelsea's spirit, their togetherness. Can Arsenal match it?

Goals: Lampard (63) 1-0; Drogba (69) 2-0; Robben (89) 3-0; Kezman pen (90) 4-0.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Gallas (Bridge, 62); Makekele, Tiago (Kezman, 62), Lampard; Duff, Gudjohnsen (Drogba, 45), Robben. Substitutes not used: Pidgeley (gk), Parker.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Taylor, Bramble, Johnsen, Hughes; Bowyer, Dyer, Jenas, Robert (Ameobi, 78); Kluivert, Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Elliott, Milner, Ambrose.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Booked: Chelsea: Carvalho. Newcastle: Taylor.

Man of the match: Lampard.

Attendance: 42,328.

¿ The Football Association yesterday insisted it had received "no indication" that Chelsea are considering a breakaway from the national body, as had been reported. Chelsea's business affairs director Paul Smith suggested that clubs would eventually wield more power than the bodies set up to govern them. "We are very surprised at this story as we have not received any indication that such initiatives may be under discussion," an FA spokesman said. "We have received assurances from the Premier League that this story does not represent their position."

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