IF Chelsea are a “little horse”, then just what are Newcastle United? A little pony?
A wet and cold afternoon in west London on Saturday underlined just how many lengths behind the club is from the Premier League’s elite.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho claimed last week that his team – “a little horse that needs milk and needs to learn how to jump” – was not in the running to win the Premier League title.
It was typical Mourinho.
Back in December, as Newcastle dismantled Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, it was even suggested that Alan Pardew’s side should be part of any title conversation.
That suggestion was fanciful.
The weaknesses of United’s squad have been exposed since that equally soggy afternoon in the capital.
Newcastle were well-placed in sixth position at the time.
But a lot has happened over the past seven weeks, not all of it good.
The architect of that club’s win over Palace, Yohan Cabaye, is gone, and injuries and suspensions have taken an inevitable toll on the players available to Pardew.
Chelsea might be a “little horse” in Mourinho’s latest mind game, but they’re capable of staying the distance. United aren’t.
After his side’s 3-0 win over United, Mourinho sat down for his Press conference, and announced he wanted to “kill the horses”.
He’d had enough of his own analogy.
Eden Hazard had earlier killed off a depleted Newcastle, who had made a spirited enough start at Stamford Bridge, where Papiss Demba Cisse had run riot two years ago when the club was a genuine contender for a Champions League place.
This time, Hatem Ben Arfa threatened in the early stages, but it was to be Hazard’s afternoon.
Chelsea’s breakthrough came in the 27th minute. Hazard played a one-two with Branislav Ivanovic before shooting past Krul.
All wasn’t lost for United – yet.
Had Moussa Sissoko put away a chance six minutes later, then the team might have been able to get something from the game.
But Sissoko, the club’s stand-in captain, set away by a fine ball from makeshift defensive midfielder Davide Santon, couldn’t beat Petr Cech, who blocked his shot.
Chelsea defended the resulting corner, and then bang. It was game over.
They quickly broke upfield. Hazard exchanged passes with Samuel Eto’o in the box before shooting into the bottom right-hand corner.
It was an extraordinary move. And it was game over.
Hazard netted their third from the penalty spot after Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, on for the injured Mathieu Debuchy, inexplicably hauled down Eto’o while defending a corner.
Newcastle were well beaten, but not embarrassed.
Maybe the margin of victory was no more or no less than many of the supporters who had forked out £52 for a ticket had expected, given the players that United had missing at the Bridge.
Mourinho had the likes of Demba Ba, Mohamed Salah, Andre Shurrle, Ramires and Ashley Cole on his bench.
If only Pardew had a Ba – teased by United fans as he warmed up with a chant of “you’re nobody now” – to bring off the bench.
Pardew had a 16-year-old, albeit one that he feels has a chance of making it at Premier League level, among his substitutes.
Ba, significantly richer for his move to Chelsea a year ago, could well end the season with a winner’s medal. Cabaye could do likewise at Paris Saint-Germain.
Who would blame the likes of Tim Krul and Cheik Tiote if they wanted to follow their example and leave the club, and join a thoroughbred in the future?
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul 6; Debuchy 6 (Yanga-Mbiwa, 40, 4), WILLIAMSON 6, S Taylor 6, Dummett 6; Anita 5 (Marveaux, 84), Santon 6; Ben Arfa 5 (Gosling, 64, 6), Sissoko 5, Sammy Ameobi 6; de Jong 6. Subs not used: Elliot, Haidara, Shola Ameobi, Armstrong.
CHELSEA: Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, D Luiz, Azpilicueta; Matic, Lampard; Willian (Salah, 78), Oscar, Hazard (Schurrle, 85); Eto’o (Ba, 71). Subs not used: Schwarzer, Cole, Mikel, Ramires.
Man of the match: Mike Williamson. Didn’t do much wrong, despite the scoreline.
Highlight: The backing from Newcastle’s fans, who had stumped up £52 to see their team outclassed.
Lowlight: Moussa Sissoko’s missed opportunity. It was all over seconds later.
Goals: Hazard 27, 34, 63
Bookings: Sammy Ameobi 49, Yanga-Mbiwa 60, Sissoko 90
Referee: Howard Webb (Sheffield)