By Rob Stewart at the Sports Direct Arena
They say that it is better to be a lucky manager than a talented one, and after beating Newcastle United on Saturday, Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas will be forgiven for believing that is the case following a dramatic change in fortune for the Blues.
Former Magpies manager Graeme Souness is credited with coming up with that little adage and it certainly rang true on Tyneside where Villas-Boas needed a bit of luck to return Chelsea to winning ways following their League Cup exit at the hands of Liverpool and a crunch Champions League game against Valencia looming.
Villas-Boas certainly had Lady Luck on Chelsea’s side at Newcastle as referee Mike Dean controversially decided to give David Luiz the benefit of the doubt and allow him to stay on the field after he hauled down Demba Ba during the opening exchanges of this game.
Most referees would have sent off the Brazilian for fouling the Senegalese striker after he had burst clear of the flat-footed defender on the edge of the penalty box with just Petr Cech to beat for his 10th goal this season.
Had Villas-Boas watched Match of the Day on Saturday night and seen Gary Cahill harshly sent off at Tottenham for hauling down Scott Parker on the halfway line, he would have realised just how lucky he had been because his team should have been plunged into trouble by Luiz’s misjudgment.
There would have been no complaints about Luiz being sent for an early shower and then Chelsea would have been really up against it because Villas-Boas was pitting his wits against a Newcastle counterpart in Alan Pardew who has the tactical know-how needed to exploit a numerical advantage.
Lucky Luiz l The error-prone Brazilian defender was let off the hook on Tyneside
But it could hardly have turned out more differently as Newcastle lost defensive lynchpin Fabricio Coloccini with a thigh injury, and when he went off the things took a turn for the better for under-pressure Portuguese boss.
Didier Drogba made the most of Coloccini’s absence by nodding in the opener but thereafter fortune continued to favour the visitors, who saw the frame of their goal struck three times – once by the Ivorian himself - and also saw John Terry clear off the line before Salomon Kalou and Daniel Sturridge put the points beyond doubt in the closing stages of an attractive game.
In fairness to Villas-Boas, Frank Lampard had a penalty expertly saved before the deadlock was broken, Tim Krul excelled for the Magpies in goal with a string of great saves and Chelsea also hit the woodwork on a couple of occasions as Juan Mata and Sturridge ran rings around a Newcastle team who badly missed Coloccini’s guile.
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David Luiz is lucky to still be on the pitch, but is only yellow carded by referee Mike Dean. Peter Lovenkrands sends Demba Ba through on goal but the striker is brought tumbling to the floor by the Brazilian last man. Villas-Boas will thank the lucky stars his centre-back is still on the pitch. Newcastle manager Pardew looks furious, on the other hand.
The Argentine’s presence will be sorely missed by Pardew if he is sidelined with injury alongside Steven Taylor, whose Achilles trouble is a source of major concern to the Newcastle camp, where resources will be stretched to the limit from now, starting at Norwich City next Saturday.
It follows a testing three games against the Premier League’s high fliers that saw Newcastle beaten 3-1 at Manchester City and draw at Manchester United before being beaten by Chelsea.
Ultimately, as fluently as Villas-Boas’ team may have been as an attacking force, the margin of victory at the Sports Direct Arena may have flattered Chelsea, but it was just the sort of result they needed ahead of Wednesday’s make-or-break Champions League match with Valencia at Stamford Bridge.
It could be a watershed of a game and this handsome win on Tyneside could be just what he needed to invigorate his team ahead of a crucial encounter with the Spanish side.
If the Newcastle success was anything to go by, Villas-Boas will leave Fernando Torres on the bench because even though Drogba’s long-term future may be uncertain there can be no doubting his commitment to the cause as he spearheaded the Chelsea attack with trademark skill, strength and aggression.
His days may be numbered, but he seems determined to go out on a high at Stamford Bridge, which can not be said for fellow striker Nicolas Anelka or Alex whose transfer requests have been accepted by Villas-Boas.
Deeming them surplus to requirements represents the chance for Villas-Boas to shape his own squad as he plots a prosperous future at Chelsea, and while the victory bodes well for the Valencia game, he will be hoping that Lady Luck stays on his side.