Newcastle routs Chelsea 4-1 as Reece James is sent off

Newcastle put four goals past Chelsea. Photograph: Getty Images
Mauricio Pochettino’s side were unrecognisable from the side that beat Spurs and drew against Man City on Saturday as they were dismantled by a rampant Newcastle

Long before the final whistle one thing was crystal clear; Newcastle’s players were prepared to jump through hoops of metaphorical fire for Eddie Howe. Despite being ravaged by a litany of injuries Howe’s team summoned up frankly awe-inducing reserves of energy to ultimately steamroller a hitherto supposedly renascent Chelsea into submission. What on earth does Newcastle’s manager feed his squad on?

Admittedly Chelsea’s Reece James was sent off for a second bookable offence in the 73rd minute but, by then, the home team were so firmly in control that the recent talk of Mauricio Pochettino presiding over a serious challenge for Champions League qualification at Stamford Bridge seemed fanciful in the extreme. On this evidence defending remains very much a work in progress in west London.

“It was our worst performance of the season,” said Pochettino. “We cannot complain. We didn’t read the game from the start. We lacked intensity and energy. I’m very angry and disappointed. I’m so upset. We were soft in every single challenge. We didn’t show we were competing for something important. We need more mental strength.”

Newcastle’s injury crisis is so acute that Howe’s substitutes’ bench included three goalkeepers and a quartet of youngsters promoted from the under-21s.

Given that 11 senior players are in the treatment room it rather begs the question is this simply sheer bad luck, the unaccustomed strain of juggling Champions League and domestic commitments or a sign that Newcastle’s ultra-high-intensity style is provoking systemic burnout?

Maybe it’s an amalgam of all three but the parallels with the period when Marcelo Bielsa’s similarly high-octane Leeds hit a broadly comparable sort of wall cannot be ignored. Why, for instance, has Joe Willock broken down with achilles trouble so soon after returning from a lengthy absence spent nursing the same injury? After all, Newcastle cannot expect to play opponents as generous as Chelsea every week.

At least Alexander Isak was back following a groin problem and marked his return by scoring a fine, 13th-minute goal. When a sublime pass from the excellent 17-year-old Lewis Miley unhinged Chelsea’s defence, the Sweden striker found himself played onside by Marc Cucurella and proceeded to take a classy steadying touch before swivelling and sweeping an unstoppable shot past Robert Sánchez.

It did not take Raheem Sterling long to equalise. When Kieran Trippier felled Sterling just outside the area, the forward opted to take the ensuing free-kick himself and directed a gloriously dipping effort over the wall before watching it brush the underside of the bar en route to evading an utterly helpless Nick Pope. Sterling’s spirited, intelligent, gutsy, performance represented a rare positive for Pochettino.

Reece James is shown a red card by the referee, Simon Hooper, after a second bookable offence. Photograph: Shutterstock

Undeterred, Newcastle refused to fold and, drawing on every last drop of adrenaline, attacked with typically, and exhilaratingly, aggressive ferocity at every opportunity. At times Chelsea seemed incapable of closing them down.

Yet although an unmarked Joelinton headed narrowly wide and Trippier’s free-kick hit the bar, Howe looked mighty relieved when an errant Pope played the ball straight to Conor Gallagher. Only a rapid, sinew-stretching, intervention from the impressive Tino Livramento prevented a second Chelsea goal.

Pochettino, exiled to the directors’ box as he served a touchline ban, cannot have enjoyed the way his players permitted themselves to be repeatedly bundled off the ball by their physically spikier hosts and could hardly have been surprised when Jamaal Lascelles scored Newcastle’s second goal

No sooner had the unattended centre-half (where was Benoît Badiashile?) connected with Anthony Gordon’s cross and powered a header past Sánchez, than Joelinton extended the lead.

This time it was Thiago Silva’s mistake. When the veteran defender made an awful hash of a back pass, Joelinton nipped in and intercepted before firing in Newcastle’s third.

All that remained was for James, who had earlier clashed angrily with Howe’s assistant, Jason Tindall, to collect a second yellow card for fouling Gordon. And then for Gordon, outstanding throughout, to enjoy the final word, shooting low beyond Sánchez after meeting Miguel Almirón’s chipped through pass.

“We don’t surrender,” said Howe before Tuesday’s trip to Paris Saint-Germain. “It was a real statement of character from deep within the squad. We didn’t allow ourselves any excuses.”