Newcastle 2 Chelsea 1: Reality-hit Jose Mourinho scapegoats ball-boys

Chelsea's unbeaten run came to an end at St James' Park

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The Independent Football

Jose Mourinho was asked why Chelsea had lost at Newcastle. “For people like me, who have been in football for so long, you have to accept this anomaly,” he said.

The footballing anomaly was an interesting starting point for Mourinho. The prosecution – you have to assume Mourinho is arguing for the defence – would launch a pretty effective case based around when Mourinho’s Internazionale beat Barcelona in the semi-final of the Champions League at the Nou Camp in 2010. Inter made 67 passes that night, compared to the home side’s 555.

Inter had won the first leg at San Siro 3-1. Barça won the return 1-0 and were so dominant there were camp beds in the Internazionale half. There weren’t really. There was not enough space. Inter made a blue-and-black wall and Barcelona could find a way through it only when Gerard Pique scored. Mourinho called the result the “most beautiful defeat of my life”.

“It is a style of blood, not skill,” he said. “When the moment of leaving everything on the pitch arrives, you don’t leave the skill, you leave the blood. We were a team of heroes, we sweated blood.”

Newcastle’s style on Saturday was that of blood; they left nothing to take into the home dressing room and regret. They kept it tight, fought and blocked and went beyond any expectation, but they were not Inter at Barcelona. A third of the game’s possession puts paid to that theory.

“They did what they always do,” added Mourinho. “They defended. They fought hard. They tried to counter-attack when it was possible. This is the way they play against us.”

It raises a curious predicament for Mourinho – and more of that later – but first came the expected sting, about the young Newcastle ball-boys not returning the ball quickly enough. The main problem, in the 94th minute, came when Branislav Ivanovic had smashed a shot into the Leazes End. That shot, and the crowd’s reluctance to return the ball, saw Mourinho throw on a second ball.

Around that same time a ball went into the Milburn Stand and I saw a young Newcastle ball-boy going way beyond the level of expectation to get it back. At some clubs he would have been asked to explain his enthusiasm. Still, it drew the ire of Mourinho, largely because something had to.

 

“Sometimes there were two balls,” he said. “And it is not possible to play with two balls. Sometimes there was zero balls and that also helps to cut the dynamic of the team who is trying to win the game.

“The referee can’t punish the ball-boy who disappeared with the ball, and the referee couldn’t punish the people in the crowd who kept the ball.”

That leaves the question what the people who kept the ball longer than anyone, his players, actually did with it.

This is a different Chelsea team to Mourinho’s first one: it is not as powerful, and at this point in its evolution it is not as clinical. It still may be a team designed to keep the structural needs of the manager happy while also providing enough entertainment to keep the owner in check. Chelsea were not brave enough to beat Newcastle. Not brave in a crunching challenge sense, but brave in the commitment to attack in numbers and take risks that might have tempted Newcastle to leave bigger holes at the back earlier in the game.

Newcastle did not touch the ball in the Chelsea penalty area in the first half hour. Yet with such dominance for the visitors, there was little of real note for the half-fit back-up goalkeeper Rob Elliot to do. For all the plaudits Jak Alnwick got after coming on at half-time for Elliot and for his debut, he didn’t have that much to do either. He made an exceptional save to deny Diego Costa but that was in the 90th minute.

Papiss Cissé scored twice in the second half, first through a Gary Cahill mistake and then through a surging run by the outstanding Jack Colback and Moussa Sissoko. Didier Drogba pulled one back and it was a frenetic and enthralling finale that roused the locals even further during seven minutes of added time.

Chelsea fought for it with their lives, to protect their unbeaten run, but they are not a good enough side for that kind of feat. Harsh reality, no anomalies.

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