Chelsea keep going but controversy follows club onto the pitch in ‘sportswashing derby’
After a week in which Chelsea’s future was plunged into grave doubt by the sanctioning of Roman Abramovich, today’s visit from Newcastle was about keeping going.
Keeping going in the Premier League, where their hold on third place suddenly looked less secure; keeping going as a business, if technical advisor Petr Cech’s pre-match comments which seemed to cast doubt on their ability to finish the season, were anything to go by.
Kai Havertz’s late goal meant Chelsea did keep going, but there are cracks appearing.
Even Havertz’s 89th-minute winner came laced with a heavy dose of controversy.
On another day the £70m Germany forward might not still have been on the pitch, having caught Newcastle defender Dan Burn in the temple with a flailing elbow shortly before half-time.
Here he escaped with a yellow card, and showed his best side by collecting Jorginho’s diagonal pass with a first touch of perfect deftness before poking past Martin Dubravka.
If Chelsea do find themselves forced into a fire sale of players, finding a home for the graceful Havertz shouldn’t pose a problem.
This was a test of Newcastle’s recent resurgence as much as it was of Chelsea’s ability to weather their current existential storm.
The Magpies arrived at Stamford Bridge on a run of six wins and a draw from their previous seven Premier League games that has dragged them out of relegation trouble.
Although they lost they mostly passed the test, repeatedly breaching Chelsea’s unfamiliar back four and can count themselves unlucky not to have had a penalty.
Jacob Murphy looked to have got in behind Trevoh Chalobah only for the defender to haul him back and nudge him over. Referee David Coote was unmoved.
If any fixture highlighted English football’s reluctance to ask questions when would-be owners show up with sackfuls of cash, then this was it.
The sportswashing derby, as some dubbed it, pitted a team ultimately owned by the Saudi state, where 81 executions took place on Saturday, against one owned by a man sanctioned over his links to Russia and Vladimir Putin.
So it was that some Newcastle supporters, presumably sensing moral high ground in sight, regaled the home fans with chants of “Mike Ashley, he’s coming for you” – which doubled as a dig at their previous owner – and “Geordie boys on a bender/Abramovich is a war offender”.
Football fans shouldn’t be held accountable for the sins of their owners, but even so this was spectacularly one-eyed stuff.
Cech provided one of the more sobering elements of the fixture with some extensive pre-match comments to Sky Sports about the apparent struggle Chelsea face in finishing the season.
The former Blues goalkeeper, now back in west London as a key figure in the running of the club, said: “We would like to keep the integrity of the Premier League. We want to prepare as much as possible and try to do our best.
“I have to admit we go day by day. We don’t have this in our hands. Conversations are going on so that we can operate in a way to finish the season.” Chelsea are keeping going then, for now at least.