Ramires, Willian help Chelsea claw back to claim point vs. Newcastle

Despite Saturday's draw at St. James Park, Jose Mourinho's men find themselves nine points adrift of new leaders Manchester United after an uncharacteristically mixed start to the season.

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Chelsea fought back at Newcastle to earn a point in a 2-2 draw thanks to two late goals from subs Willian and Ramires. Down 2-0 with ten minutes to play, Chelsea were able to claw back two goals and set up an enthralling finish at St. James Park. Chelsea, however, remain far adrift of the pack with just eight points from seven games; they are also a full; eight points behind the leaders, Manchester United.

Despite the spirited late fightback from Chelsea, this performance is unlikely to settle the growing fears at Stamford Bridge. For long stretches of this match, the reigning champions looked awful, undone by defensive errors and shabby tactics against what is one of the poorest teams in England. While Chelsea have managed to string together some results after a dreadful start to the season — including one costly and controversial win against Arsenal — they still look an unbalanced and fragile side. On Saturday, without the suspended Diego Costa, they lacked the guile and bite to relieve pressure on what is a struggling backline.

Chelsea did craft a couple chances at the outset before fading badly. Branislav Ivanovic, who has been under heavy fire after a series of dodgy performances, nearly teed up Loic Remy in the 12th minute, only to see the striker miss just wide. Remy, in for the suspended Costa, has never really lived up to reputation he acquired at Newcastle, and again seemed to struggle at his old ground.

In contrast Newcastle — who entered the game just off the bottom of the table and that only by virtue of the fact that their arch-rivals Sunderland are far worse — looked the sharper side. Georgino Wijnaldum and the fiery Aleksandar Mitrovic almost connected in the 15th, with Mitrovic leaping but putting his header wide of Asmir Begovic’s net; followed up moments later by a low cutter from Moussa Sissoko tailing just to the wrong side of the post.

Despite Chelsea having more of the ball, Begovic seemed the busier keeper, in part because Cesc Fabregas kept turning the ball over. Darryl Janmaat and Ayoze Perez nearly snuck one past Begovic in the 28th with a one-two that saw Perez’ shot well-saved; the rebound fell back to Perez and he attempted to return the favor to Janmaat; he in turn found his shot smothered.

Tim Krul was not idle, however. On a rare bit of solid play, Cesc Fabregas was able to force a one-handed stop after being left unguarded off a Nemanja Matic feed some 30 yards out. But in the 42nd, Newcastle were able to finally make their play pay. Vurnon Anita sent in a simple cross, and as has happened too often this season for Chelsea’s liking, their defense blinked. Inexplicably, Kurt Zouma and Ivanovic allowed the ball to bounce between them, and Perez was able to scissor the ball inbetween them and past Begovic at the post.

PREMIER LEAGUE RESULTS

It was a routine defensive play, but nothing has been routine for Ivanovic back there this season. Unfortunately both he and John Terry have gone south at the same time, and it has resulted in some laughable plays. Mourinho returned from the dressing rooms early, with a grim expression on his face. He would get unhappier on the hour mark when he watched his defense collapse again in semi-comic fashion.

Off a routine corner kick, Cesc did not move with his runner, Wijnaldum — who gleefully took advantage of a free header to beat Begovic and double Newcastle’s lead. Amazingly the goal came during a run of play that had seen Newcastle touch the ball just ten times total in the half — and it summed up Chelsea’s continued frustrations. Damagingly weak in the back, Mourinho reacted strangely, yanking Remy and Matic for Willian and Radamel Falcao. Neither made an immediate impact with Falcao in particular looking useless.

But Mourinho’s final sub, yanking Oscar for Ramires, did pay dividends. With ten minutes to play, Ramires was able to latch on to a bobbled pass from Eden Hazard to blow a strike into the top corner. It was a classy strike from one of the few Chelsea players to be enjoying any sort of a stretch of form, and it changed the flow of the game.

Six minutes later, Chelsea struck again. Willian whipped in a free kick that was missed by everyone including keeper Tim Krul. Ramires was again at the heart of the play, going up for the free-kick and distracting Krul just enough to put the keeper off the shot. Ramires nearly won the game moments after that, with Krul having to stop a fierce, point-blank header from close range.

But the expressions on the faces of Chelsea’s players when the whistle blew spoke volumes. Glum and frustrated once again, Chelsea’s title defense is likely over, and where the English giants go from here is a very open question.