The Italian may have had a brand of football named after him in Italy, so called Sarri-ball, but Rafa Benitez has always been more of a pragmatist than a stylist. The Newcastle manager knew how to make things difficult for Chelsea and his team sacrificed attacking endeavour for defensive resolve. For all the criticism this might attract from those who hold on to a more romantic ideal of how a Newcastle team should play at home, it almost worked perfectly.
The Magpies were determined to stifle and disrupt, squeezing the space in the final third so that Chelsea were forced to go sideways and backwards in search of an opening. They had to be patient, they had to probe and prod, they had to make the most of the few chances that came their way.
Even after taking the lead, with a controversial second-half penalty, when Fabian Schar was rather harshly judged to have brought down Marcos Alonso inside the area, even though replays showed he had got to the ball first, knocking it away before the Chelsea player kicked his leg and fell over, Chelsea had to delve deep.
Newcastle had rarely threatened to score, lacking the numbers in open play, while Chelsea defended set pieces solidly, but they equalised with eight minutes remaining when substitute Joselu darted in front of a static David Luiz and glanced a header inside the near post from DeAndre Yedlin’s cross.
Given how well Newcastle had defended up until that point, a draw seemed certain, only for Chelsea to snatch a winner, Yedlin slicing an attempted clearance of a weak shot from Alonso into his own net. If that was fortuitous, you could also argue that a team that has 81 per cent of possession away from home tends to make their own luck.
“We knew that here would be difficult, especially for us, but also every team,” said Sarri. “Chelsea lost here last season, so did Manchester United and Arsenal. It is not easy to play here against this opponent.
“This game was much more difficult [than against Huddersfield and Arsenal] . In Italy I had never seen Rafa play with five defenders, so compact, defend so deep. We had to move the ball very fast, but it was hard.