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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at St James' Park

How Chelsea's foreign legion killed off Geordie hopes - and hurt England's coefficients



Those Chelsea cast-offs sure know how to ruin a party.


Tyneside was bracing itself for another of those whirlwind evenings like the one in October when Paris St Germain came to town and were blown away 4-1. But this time, a red-blooded Champions League soiree did not turn out to be a happy occasion for the Gallowgate faithful.


For all the black and white flag waving and crescendo of noise kicked up by an impassioned crowd of 50,000 plus, Wednesday at St James' Park was determined by a group of players carrying the know-how and calmness to see off the maelstrom created by the hosts.


Probably a fair few Chelsa fans would have been watching this one on TV, half wishing one or two of the quartet who now play for AC Milan were still on the books and bringing some sort of progressive stability amid a chaotic season at Stamford Bridge.


That is not to say that the four who played their part in Milan's 2-1 triumph give the impression they belong among the ultra-elite in world football. Indeed, their presence seems even to have diluted the Italian giants' traditional positioning as one of the very best teams in club football.


On the face of it, the seven times Champions League winners - only Real Madrid have a better record - are still among the very best. They made the semi-final last year, after all. But no-one really believes this edition of Milan is a patch on the great sides fielded by the Rossoneri in years gone by.


And yet, they had enough about them to fight back from a first half deficit - Joelinton's brilliant strike giving Newcastle the lead - and secure the win which eliminated the Geordies from Europe altogether. Fourth place in the group means the Magpies do not even have the Europa League to fall back on as a consolation.


But Milan themselves have found themselves falling short and even the win could only carry them into Europe's second tier competition, with PSG taking the place they hoped to wrest from the French side in the final round of matches. Well, with Chelsea 'reserves' making up a big part of their team, is it any wonder?




Ruben Loftus-Cheek after the warm-up ahead of the action at St James' Park


That blunt assessment might be a little harsh though, because Fikayo Tomori, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Christian Pulisic and Olivier Giroud remain very decent players, and all played their part in ensuring the night was wrecked for those expectant Geordies, who were eager to will their team to the victory which would have taken them to the last-16 in their first venture into the Champions League for 20 years.


Tomori, in particular, was very good. Apart from almost slicing a cross into his own net in the early stages, the defender made one fantastic goaline clearance when Miguel Almiron looked certain to score and managed to supplement his dependable defending by getting forward to assist Milan's chasing of the game after trailing.


It was his wild shot which also inadvertently set up the equaliser as the ball fell to Giroud, and the Frenchman's deft touch set it up on a plate for 'Captain America' Pulisic. Tomori also hit a post late on as Newcastle's desperate attempts to repair the damage from falling behind left them exposed on the counter.


Ah yes, Pulisic. Much maligned at Stamford Bridge, he never really won the hearts of the Matthew Harding masses. In the opening passages of play, he again underlined his limitations by resorting to a foul on an Anthony Gordon beating him for pace, and then sliced a cross straight out of play as a rare first-half attack from the Italians came to nothing.


Limited he may have looked at times, but his 59th minute strike was a dagger to the heart for Newcastle and sapped so much of the belief out of them. It was the evening's big turning point.


And then there was Ruben Loftus-Cheek. A man with such talent and swagger on his day that he was once being compared to German great Michael Ballack.


One performance for England against Germany at Wembley was so good, it looked certain that he would be featuring in every Gareth Southgate squad from then on. But injuries have seemingly robbed him of that chance to make a quantum leap into being considered among the very best.


Here, it was his workmanlike, journeyman attributes which prevailed, but he often seemed caught out by the sheer pace and intensity of Newcastle's game early on. When he tried to carry into space, he often ran into a cul-de-sac. He affected the game in a way that was not nearly as eye-catching as it has been in the past. Still only 27, it somehow feels that he is older.


To be clear, these are not bad players. Tomori in particular, at 25, may even go up a few more gears and feature more prominantly for England than he has done so far. But in truth, Milan did not look as daunting as they have done in the past and this was definitely an opportunity missed by a Newcastle side who started to run on fumes by the end.


Their gameplan consisted of 100mph football rather than a more measured approach they will need to adopt in future overseas campaigns. This was all too naive.


For English football, the elimination of the Magpies - Just a day after Manchester United's - puts hopes of having a fifth representative in next season's rejigged Champions League format in jeopardy. That's another consequence of those old Chelsea boys' winning night on Tyneside.


Blues fans, aware their own team looks unlikely to be in contention for that fifth place, as things stand, may well have smiled to themselves at the way it all panned out for the side who recently routed their own team 4-1 up in the north east.

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