Newcastle United really are 'contenders' after superb Chelsea win – just ask Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola, maybe mischieviously, labelled Newcastle United as title “contenders”.
Eddie Howe isn’t ready to even talk about a challenge for European football, but, following a hard-fought 1-0 win over Chelsea tonight, the club must be in any conversation about the end-of-season honours after an extraordinary few months.
Joe Willock scored the only goal of the game to claim all three points and lift the club back into third place following Tottenham Hotspur’s win over Leeds United.
And Newcastle, beaten just once so far this season, go into the World Cup break just four points off Premier League leaders Arsenal. That’s better than any fan expected before a ball was kicked, but, crucially, the team deserves to be there on the basis of its performances.
Untied won’t have European football to contend with when the Premier League resumes – and they’re now being taken very seriously.
Howe had made two changes. Callum Wilson – who had missed the midweek Carabao Cup tie through illness – started the game on the bench. Chris Wood replaced him in the starting XI.
Joelinton also returned to the team, having missed last weekend’s win over Southampton due to a one-game suspension.
Chelsea, without the unwell Raheem Sterling, fielded former Newcastle loan target Armando Broja up front.
United hadn’t been at their best in the third-round tie against Crystal palace, which was decided by a penalty shootout, but they made a positive start against Chelsea, who lost Ruben Loftus-Cheek to an early injury.
Newcastle pressed high up the pitch, and forced errors from Graham Potter’s team, who tried to slow the game down.
Fabian Schar was able to continue after treatment early in the game, and Miguel Almiron shot over with a volley after the visitors half-cleared a ball from the left.
That was to be United’s only effort in the first 30 minutes, but the team pressed for a breakthrough late in the half.
Newcastle had a penalty claim waved away in added time after Trevoh Chalobah appeared to handle a low cross from Dan Burn, and the half ended goalless.
Potter replaced Cesar Azpilicueta with Christian Pulisic at the break, and Chelsea had to contend with more United pressure after the restart.
Bruno Guimaraes had a shot blocked, and Sean Longstaff then fired over, as Howe’s team pushed for a breakthrough. They had Chelsea pinned back in their own half, but couldn’t find the net.
Newcastle had a scare at the other end of the pitch after Kieran Trippier gave the ball away, but Nick Pope was able to turn a Conor Gallagher shot round the post.
And that 66th-minute save, which followed three in a midweek penalty shootout against Crystal Palace, would proved crucial.
Seconds later, United had the ball in the net. Miguel Almiron ran with the ball along the edge of the box, and Willock smashed the ball home to break the deadlock.
Howe sent on Wilson with 15 minutes left, and Newcastle attempted to see the game out.
United held on.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Pope, Trippier, Schar, Botman (Targett, 86), Burn, Guimaraes, Longstaff, Willock (Murphy, 83), Almiron, Joelinton, Wood (Wilson, 75). Subs not used: Darlow, Lascelles, Shelvey, Saint-Maximin, Manquillo, Anderson.