Chelsea snatched a dramatic winner against Newcastle in the first game at Stamford Bridge since Blues’ Russian owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by the UK government.
The game looked to be heading towards a goalless draw before Kai Havertz expertly controlled a ball forward and fired into the net in the 88th minute.
It was a tough goal to concede for Newcastle who had wanted Havertz to be sent off in the first half for catching Dan Burn in the face with an elbow when jumping, but the German only received a booking.
Before the goal, both sides had struggled to create clear-cut chances, with Chelsea taking 75 minutes to produce an effort on target.
Newcastle’s Miguel Almiron had earlier forced a fine save from home goalkeeper Edouard Mendy with a well-struck 25-yard volley and Burn headed just wide.
Just as had happened in Chelsea’s 3-1 away win over Norwich on Thursday, a small section of fans chanted Abramovich’s name, for a brief period in the second half.
Abramovich has been sanctioned as a part of the government’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, meaning his assets, including Chelsea Football Club, have been frozen.
A good end to a tough week for Chelsea and Tuchel
Chelsea stay third, but are now only seven points behind second-placed Liverpool and 10 adrift of leaders Manchester City. Meanwhile, Newcastle, beaten for the first time in nine Premier League matches, are 14th, 10 points clear of the relegation zone.
The relief and delight shown from Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel, both at the goal and again at the final whistle, showed what this meant to him by screaming at the fans and punching the air.
And it was easy to see why he was so emotional with the club’s very existence potentially under threat.
Abramovich has been the Chelsea owner for nearly 19 years, a period in which they have won 21 trophies, including the Premier League on five occasions and the Champions League twice.
But the current sanctions against him have stopped him selling Chelsea, and mean the club are unable to buy or sell players, cannot sell any more tickets for games, have had their bank accounts suspended and have had to close the club shop.
The government said it would issue a special licence that allowed fixtures to be fulfilled, staff to be paid and existing ticket holders to attend matches, although the club’s wage bill stands at £28m a month.
It seemed fitting that Newcastle, another side with hugely controversial owners following their takeover in October by the Saudi Arabian-backed Public Investment Fund (PIF), were Chelsea’s opponents on a day when events off the field were talked about as much as those on it.
Newcastle’s takeover and the potential huge investment into the club was celebrated by their fans a few months ago, although Amnesty International said “it represented a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football”.
Plenty of positives for Newcastle
Despite the late defeat, this was another sign of the progress Newcastle are making on the pitch. There was plenty for Newcastle boss Eddie Howe to be positive about given his side were only a few minutes away from securing a point away at the current European and world champions.
Arriving at a club without a league win and with only six points from 12 matches, he began with five defeats in his first eight games in all competitions, including a humiliating home loss to third-tier Cambridge United in the FA Cup third round.
But, after spending £80m in the January transfer window, the Magpies had been on a run of eight games unbeaten, including six victories, before this narrow loss.
The visitors had defended superbly up until Jorginho’s excellent ball over the defence found Havertz, who showed his class to control it and then score the winner to delight the packed crowd at Stamford Bridge.
Howe said he thought Havertz could have been sent off but was also disappointed his side did not get a second-half penalty when Trevoh Chalobah had a hold of Jacob Murphy’s shirt.