Chelsea are remembering why it helps to have a manager who trusts in his tactics and style of play. Clarity is returning after the vagueness that afflicted them under Frank Lampard. Thomas Tuchel has hit upon a system that suits this side and he is finding ways to revive players who looked lost under Lampard, summed up by Timo Werner returning to his spiky best as Chelsea climbed into the top four thanks to a comfortable win over a dreadful Newcastle side.
It appears a simple tactical shift was all Werner required to regain his belief after a torrid run in front of goal. After toiling as a winger in Lampard’s favoured 4-3-3, he looks transformed as an inside-left. Werner knows the position well from his time at RB Leipzig. It allows him to operate in more dangerous areas and he thrived against Newcastle, creating Olivier Giroud’s opener before scoring for the second time in 20 matches.
Credit must go to Tuchel for trusting Werner. This is a manager working out how best to deploy the array of attacking options at his disposal and, more often than not, getting it right. Tuchel has taken less than a month to lift his new side out of mid-table and there is already a different feel to Chelsea: more purpose with the ball and more aggression without it.
He keeps making the right calls. His selections have been meritocratic and he has given opportunities to supposed lost causes. The latest experiment was to give Kepa Arrizabalaga a first start in the Premier League since 17 October and the goalkeeper was accomplished behind Chelsea’s back three, protecting his clean sheet when he denied Joe Willock with a superb late save.
It would have been undeserved if Willock’s header had crept past him. Newcastle were anaemic in defence and attack, providing Steve Bruce’s critics with further ammunition. They are seven points above Fulham, who look resurgent in 18th place, and are far from safe on this evidence.
Chelsea were dominant throughout, taking their cue from Mateo Kovacic’s urgent passing from central midfield. There was an intensity to their play and an intelligence to their coordinated patterns in attack. Newcastle were quickly pinned back and were fortunate not to concede twice during the opening 10 minutes, escaping when César Azpilicueta’s header was cleared off the line before Tammy Abraham nodded a glorious chance wide.
It was a poor miss from Abraham, whose evening worsened when Kovacic released him in the 15th minute. The striker looked certain to open the scoring until Jamaal Lascelles intervened with a superb challenge, taking the ball before playing the man. Chelsea’s appeals for a penalty were correctly waved away and it was not long before Abraham limped off, making way for Giroud.
The change made no difference to Chelsea’s threat. Although Werner missed an awkward chance from close range, he refused to let his head drop. His direct dribbling tormented Newcastle and his persistence paid off when he zipped clear in the 31st minute, making space before driving a low cross into the six-yard box. Karl Darlow could only push the ball out to Giroud, who had an easy finish.
Werner went close again, firing over from a Kovacic pass. He kept going and after 39 minutes a corner hit Lascelles and bounced to Werner, who controlled before scoring in the league for the first time since 7 November.
“He worked hard,” Tuchel said. “In the last game he was decisive with assists. Again today he has an assist and a goal. This is super-important for him. It’s a big relief.”
Newcastle were never going to recover from two goals down. There was no spark to the visitors. It felt like an exercise in damage limitation from start to finish and while allowances must be made for Callum Wilson’s absence in attack their lack of fight was impossible to excuse.
The defending was feeble from such a negative side and there was no presence up front without Wilson, who is out for eight weeks with a hamstring injury. Miguel Almirón and Allan Saint-Maximin were terrible.
“We found it very difficult,” Bruce said. “The second half we changed things and had more intensity. I was pleased. There are positives.”
Yet Chelsea cruised after the interval. Callum Hudson-Odoi, reborn as a wing-back in Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1, kept rumbling down the right and firing in crosses. Mason Mount was as bright as ever.
Newcastle offered nothing. Willock’s late header merely papered over the cracks.