A sold-out crowd of 71,000 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta was treated to a very competitive affair between Eddie Howe's Newcastle United and Mauricio Pochettino's Chelsea, with the game ending 1-1.
In a first half that ebbed and flowed, with momentum swinging between the teams quite regularly, it was Chelsea that took the lead against the run of play in the 12th minute. Ian Maatsen found space in the left pocket and slotted a well-timed through ball to Nicolas Jackson, who burned Sven Botman for pace and easily tucked the ball past Martin Dúbravka.
Newcastle had enjoyed most of the possession up to that point without ever really threatening Kepa in the Blues' goal, with Lewis Miley catching the eye with an assured display in Bruno Guimarães' deep-lying central midfield slot. Sandro Tonali and Joelinton weren't offering much either side of the youngster, unfortunately, which left Howe's side looking vulnerable to quick transitions and unable to unlock their opponents at the other end.
Fabian Schär had to leave the fray around the half-hour mark with what Howe later described as a "tight hamstring", with a reshuffle seeing Alex Murphy joining the action from the bench to play left-back with Dan Burn moving inside to left-centre-back and Sven Botman shifting along to right centre-back. This change helped rather than hindered the Magpies, though, with Murphy's extra pace helping to quell the threat provided by Maatsen, Jackson, and Reece James down that side.
A deserved equaliser came on the stroke of half-time after superb work from Anthony Gordon, who caught the eye throughout. Picking the ball up midway inside his own half on the left touchline, Gordon darted inside and left Enzo Fernández for dead before sliding a beautiful pass beyond Marc Cucurella into the path of the onrushing hometown hero Miguel Almirón. What came next was no surprise, as Miggy coolly slotted the ball beyond Kepa and into the far-left corner from the right side of the box.
Nick Pope replaced Martin Dúbravka at the interval and spent the next 45 minutes showing how much the side misses him when he's absent, with a succession of quality saves and a general level of command that the Slovakian just doesn't offer. His late stop from Ben Chilwell stood out, with the Sky commentator calling it the "save of the tournament so far".
Otherwise, the second period was most notable for Alexander Isak's increased influence when moved to the left wing, swapping positions with Gordon who went into something of a false nine role, and how much more comfortable Tonali looked as the deepest of the three midfielders. Miley maintained a very strong performance level even after switching with the Italian, though Joelinton struggled to make any sort of impact on the game.
There were very few changes from Howe, with Ben Parkinson, Jay Turner-Cooke, and Harrison Ashby given late runouts to give Joelinton, Almirón, and Trippier a breather, with the Newcastle manager likely to name an entirely different XI for Friday evening/Saturday morning's game against Brighton in New Jersey.
All-in-all it was another very competitive 90 minutes for the Magpies in this US Summer Series, though, which looks to be providing ideal preparation for a massive 2023/24 campaign. The big kick-off is now just 16 days away.
Lewis Miley was the standout performer from the starting XI, with Anthony Gordon putting in another fine showing as well. Miguel Almirón and Nick Pope were probably the pick of the other senior players, though nobody played terribly by any stretch of the imagination.
Dúbravka – 5
Trippier – 6
Schär – 5
Botman – 6
Burn – 6
Tonali – 6
L. Miley – 9
Joelinton – 5
Almirón – 7
Isak – 6
Gordon – 8
A. Murphy – 6
Pope – 8
Parkinson – 6
Turner-Cooke – 6
Ashby – 6
Eddie Howe gave Dan King of NUFC TV a good five minutes after the whistle in Atlanta, here's the pick of his comments:
"It was a good game, a real challenge for us. Chelsea are a very good team and we tried to go with one eleven and tried to get them to go as long as they could, 90 minutes if possible. I thought the players did really well physically because it's been a hard week for them.
There's been no escape for them other than the baseball. It's been a lot of training and a lot of hard work, I think we came into the game fatigued again today. We wouldn't train as hard as we have for a Premier League game, I think that showed at times, but full credit to the players. Mentally, we dug it out and performed very well, and I was very pleased.
We were hoping to get 90 minutes for as many players as possible and then I was going on gut feel towards the end thinking 'Who do I need to protect'. Obviously speaking to my staff as well to make sure that we try and avoid injuries at that stage, as that's when the players are most at risk.
I think this is one of the best stadiums I've ever been inside of. It's very atmospheric, really good noise, the air condition is unique, a closed roof definitely helped the players for sure. The pitch looked a little bit dead with a lack of bounce, but it was an amazing spectacle and it's been really good to be here.
We'll change everybody (for Brighton), with two games in three days we thought that was the right thing to do. They (the players who weren't in the squad) didn't warm up, they trained today and will train tomorrow and then will play on Friday night."
Nick Pope and Alex Murphy also took the time to speak to King, too, with the returning goalkeeper saying:
"I really enjoyed being back on the pitch. Leicester at home feels like a long time ago so to be back out there with the boys, I really enjoyed it.
Chelsea are a top team. When you play friendlies you don't want to play lesser opposition, we know they're a top team and they'll give us a good game. The friendlies we've got look really good on the schedule, so it was great to be out there and keep a clean sheet.
I'd had a number of dislocations on the same finger that were happening really easily, so I had to get it stabilised to stop it happening. It stayed in the socket tonight, so we're one-for-one.
I'm 10 weeks post-operation now and we played baseball the other day, just to make sure I had the final tick in the box, so that was enough for me.
This place is unbelievable, one of the best I've ever seen and played in. We've had an amazing time in Atlanta and something that's only going to benefit the squad, bring us closer together and prepare us for the new season.
The support has been amazing, for Miggy today it was like a homecoming. Amazing for him to be part of that, he's a great player for our club, a great personality and character, so for him to come here and score, I'm over the moon for him. The amount of love and support we've had since we've been here has been top drawer."
19-year-old Irishman Murphy commented:
"I don't think it can get much bigger than that, a team like Chelsea who are massive. Once I heard I was coming on I was buzzing, obviously nervous, but when you get on the pitch it's just another game like you're playing with your friends at home. It was an unbelievable test up against players playing top level in the Premier League. I got my first touch and settled into the game straight away.
I can't thank my experience with Galway enough. I was there for two years, I went in when I was 16, and just learning from professionals there every day was so valuable. Then when you step in with these lads training it's a step up again. It's unbelievable training with seniors every day, you learn so much every day and you have to be on it every day.
I couldn't ask for better lads to be around me. Dan (Burn) was on my side and he was getting onto me, telling me to talk more on the pitch to him as well because I was full-back there and he can't see what's going on behind him most of the time. All of the lads give advice in the dressing room at half-time and whenever they can, so they're unbelievable.
At Galway, I played left-back for the seniors. When I was younger I was centre-back all the time, but I don't mind as long as I'm playing. Everybody wants to get on the pitch, everybody wants to impress, it's a great opportunity for us all (the young players) to come out here. Most of us have got minutes on the pitch. It's about grabbing those minutes and making an impression, doing the best you can, and seeing where that gets you.
It's been mad, this stadium holds 71,000 or something. From what I was used to at Galway, this is just mad. The stadium is unbelievable, every stadium is unbelievable out here, so it's a mad experience."
Newcastle will round off their participation in the inaugural Premier League US Summer Series against Brighton & Hove Albion on Friday night/Saturday morning, with a kick-off time of 12.30 a.m. against Roberto De Zerbi's team.
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