As the seconds ticked away in the second half, the heavy rain that had threatened the early evening game from even taking place poured onto the greasy Stamford Bridge surface at which point the Newcastle players were probably hoping the heavens would swallow them up and spit them back out somewhere back in the North East after being comfortably second best to Hazard, Mata, Torres and company.
Vurnon Anita, another graduate of the illustrious Ajax academy coaxed away from the Eredivisie side currently enjoying a resurgence under Frank De Boer made his first league start for Alan Pardew’s side and looked like a player who will need to quickly get to grips with his new domestic surroundings.
There is no doubt that the young Dutchman could prove another inspired signing for the club that missed out on Champions League football last year. The likes of Yohan Cabaye, Cheik Tiote and Demba Ba have been integral to the change of fortunes at St James’ Park, but on the evidence of this game, Anita’s ‘Rolls-Royce’ style of football must go up a few gears to keep up with the likes of Roberto Di Matteo’s side.
Comfortable and composed in possession of the ball and with a touch of elegance about his passing, Anita fits in with the current club ethos to opt for the more technically gifted ball players over the gritty midfield grafters. His defensive work looked more about anticipation and the ability to intercept the ball than tough tackling, and he certainly offers more of an attacking threat than his defensive midfield compatriot Cheik Tiote.
After his solid second half outing against Tottenham, the midfielder was drafted into the first eleven replacing Tiote filling in for the Ivorian alongside Yohan Cabaye with Ben Arfa and Jonas Gutierrez playing out wide in the four man midfield. His opening moments in the game will have impressed both manager and the Geordie faithful packed away in the Shed End as he interchanged short, sharp passes in front of the Newcastle defence gesturing to his teammates to maintain their shape.
The task at hand became quickly apparent as Chelsea’s triumvirate of Bertrand, Hazard and Mata often switched positions in the 4-2-3-1 formation and produced the type of movement off the ball that proved too much for Newcastle to contain as Anita was rushed in possession and simply not afforded the time on the ball.
Then in the 22nd minute Anita needlessly hung out a leg as Fernando Torres galloped into the box to give away the penalty that put Chelsea 1-0 up and was inevitably the turning point in the game. Newcastle became more direct in their attempts to create and Anita found himself overrun by the movement and the possession that Chelsea’s attacking midfield three enjoyed.
As the FourFourTwo Stats Zone dashboard below shows, Anita’s play in the second half compared to the first showed more urgency and was more spread across the pitch as Newcastle chased the game and Cabaye struggled to impose himself on the game. As Newcastle’s most creative outlet Hatem Ben Arfa drifted more centrally, it inevitably meant there was more ground for Anita to cover which had an impact on Newcastle’s shape during a second half which drifted along without much incident.
Compared to John Obi Mikel whose style is almost a carbon copy of Anita’s, the Nigerian managed a 95% pass succession rate compared to Anita’s 85%, but it was in the defensive areas of the pitch where Mikel dominated completing more tackles, interceptions and clearances than the Newcastle man.
Anita has all the attributes to succeed in the Premier League and at Newcastle from his great engine, formidable confidence on the ball and the calming presence that will draw comparisons with the likes of Mikel and Michael Carrick who manage to keep things ticking over so effortlessly at the heart of midfield. On a rainy day in West London however, the Dutch international found out that the time he was once afforded in the Eredivisie must be forgotten if he wants to secure a prominent place in Pardew’s fist team plans this season.