Chelsea survived a scare to claim a 3-1 win over Newcastle United on Saturday and move level on points with second-place Manchester United in the Premier League.
The champions came from a goal down to record their fifth win in six league matches thanks to an Eden Hazard double and an Alvaro Morata header.
Antonio Conte had complained this week that his side have been given an unfair fixture schedule, with Newcastle given an extra 24 hours to prepare for this game after playing on Tuesday, and Chelsea certainly looked out-of-sorts early on at Stamford Bridge as Dwight Gayle put the visitors ahead.
Gayle also opened the scoring in the 4-1 defeat to United last month and there was sense of deja vu for the Magpies when Hazard levelled nine minutes later, before Morata’s header made it 2-1 before half-time.
Chelsea rather eased off in the second half, with Hazard coming close to a third on two occasions, but the Belgium star eventually made the points safe with an impudent penalty.
The result puts Conte’s side level on 32 points with United, who face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium later on Saturday, while Newcastle stay 12th.
Chelsea’s sluggish start was punished after 12 minutes. A defensive mix-up saw the ball deflect towards Jacob Murphy and, although Thibaut Courtois palmed the ball away from his feet, Gayle was on hand to tap home the rebound.
The goal seemed to spark the home side into life, with Hazard denied by a good Karl Darlow save following a fine Cesc Fabregas pass, before Andreas Christensen rattled the post with a header.
With 21 minutes played, the Blues got their equaliser. Florian Lejeune cleared a cross only as far as Hazard on the edge of the six-yard box, and the Belgian bounced a half-volley off the turf and into the right-hand corner.
Chelsea kept up their pressure and grabbed a second 12 minutes before the break. Victor Moses sent in a cross from the right, Lejeune and Chancel Mbemba both missed it, and Morata had the simple task of nodding the ball into the net from barely five yards out.
Conte’s side were beginning to look comfortable and Darlow had to be alert to deny Hazard his second after a mazy run, with Newcastle mustering little in the opening stages of the second half but for a hopeful strike from 25 yards out by Ayoze Perez.
Hazard then came within inches of connecting with a fine Danny Drinkwater pass 12 yards from goal, as Newcastle dropped deeper and deeper and showed few signs of threatening a late comeback.
The result was finally secured 16 minutes from time, as Hazard clipped a confident penalty into the net after Moses had been brought down by a poor challenge from Matt Ritchie.
Darlow denied Hazard a hat-trick with another good stop but it mattered little to Chelsea, who will now hope for favours from Arsenal and West Ham in their bid to haul in United and runaway leaders Manchester City.
Key Opta Facts:
– Chelsea recorded their 16th Premier League home win against Newcastle – their joint-most versus one side alongside Spurs (also 16 wins).
– Antonio Conte has won all 17 Premier League games with Chelsea in which Eden Hazard has scored.
– Newcastle lost their 70th Premier League game in London – the joint-most of any away side in the competition (level with Everton).
– Since the start of season, Alvaro Morata has scored 11 headed goals, more than any other player in Europe’s big five leagues.
– Newcastle United have won just one of their last 19 away Premier League games (W1 D4 L14).
– Since the start of last season, Dwight Gayle has scored 25 league goals for Newcastle, more than double any other player has netted for the club.