By MATTIAS KAREN – Japan Today
A week of unprecedented turmoil for Chelsea ended with a moment of joy.
In a game that came to symbolize the Premier League’s connections to so-called “sportswashing” by unsavory owners, Kai Havertz netted an 89th-minute winner to give Chelsea a 1-0 victory over Newcastle in the Premier League on Sunday.
Havertz used an exquisite first touch to control a cross into the box and then slotted a calm finish into the net to set off wild celebrations among the capacity crowd at Stamford Bridge.
It may be some time before Chelsea plays in front of a sold-out home stadium again after the UK government imposed sanctions on Russian owner Roman Abramovich, but the uncertainty surrounding the club’s future has so far not had an effect on the field.
The win followed a 3-1 victory over Norwich on Thursday and maintained Chelsea’s solid grip on third place in the standings. For Newcastle, it was the club’s first league loss of the year, ending a nine-game unbeaten run.
In other games, relegation-threatened Watford and Leeds both earned much-needed wins, while Everton’s struggles continued and Ukraine forward Andriy Yarmolenko scored an emotional goal to help give West Ham a victory.
But the Chelsea-Newcastle clash was always going to be the day’s standout game because of events off the pitch.
Chelsea has been granted a special license to keep playing after Abramovich was sanctioned because of his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, halting his attempt to sell the club.
Newcastle, meanwhile, is facing renewed scrutiny after Saudi Arabia staged a mass execution on Saturday, putting to death 81 people convicted of various crimes. Newcastle was bought by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund in October, although both the club and the Premier League have insisted that the Saudi state isn’t involved in the running of the club.
Havertz may have been fortunate to escape with just a yellow card for elbowing Dan Burn in the head in an aerial duel in the first half. In the end, his goal meant Chelsea escaped with a win that may quell talk of a full-blown crisis — for now.
“You feel sorry for everyone in the club, the supporters, also the workers, not only for us professionals, for the academy, for everyone, it’s a tough time,” Havertz said. “But we just tried to give everything for them in the moment and if you can give them moments like this, it’s always nice because we all have to stand together in these times and we tried to do that. We try to win games and give them a good feeling.”
RELEGATION FIGHT HEATS UP
In the tightening race to avoid relegation, Watford and Leeds both boosted their chances of staying up while Everton slipped closer to dropping out of the top flight for the first time in 71 years.
Cucho Hernandez netted twice to give Watford a 2-1 win at Southampton, while Leeds ended a six-game losing streak by beating last-place Norwich by the same score thanks to an injury-time winner.
Kenny McLean had equalized for Norwich at the start of stoppage time but Joe Gelhardt then came off the bench to net the winner for Leeds and hand American manager Jesse Marsch his first victory at the third attempt.
At Goodison Park, boyhood Liverpool fan Conor Coady headed home a second-half winner for Wolverhampton to secure a 1-0 victory over 10-man Everton.
The England international expertly glanced home Ruben Neves’ cross and Jonjoe Kenny was then sent off for two yellow cards in the space of three minutes to damage Everton’s hopes of a comeback.
The results mean Watford is now tied on points with 17th-place Everton, although Frank Lampard’s team has three games in hand. Leeds moved four points above the relegation zone.
YARMOLENKO IN TEARS
Yarmolenko was back in West Ham’s squad for the first time since being granted compassionate leave due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and was in tears after netting the opening goal to help his team beat Aston Villa 2-1.
Yarmolenko celebrated his 70th-minute goal by dropping to his knees with both arms pointing up to the sky as he was mobbed by his teammates.
Yarmolenko had received a standing ovation from both sets of fans as he came on as a 53rd-minute substitute for Michail Antonio.
Pablo Fornals doubled the lead in the 82nd before Jacob Ramsey pulled one back for Villa in injury time.