In other news, Kai Havertz scored a stunning last-minute goal to give Chelsea a fifth Premier League win on the spin and hand Newcastle a first defeat in 10 in the competition.
It was a day when the action on the field felt strangely incidental, as Chelsea played at Stamford Bridge for the first time since the fall of their oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Facing them were opponents owned by the Public Investment Fund of a country that is involved in the war with Yemen and also one in which 81 men were executed on Saturday.
Outgoing Russian money versus incoming Saudi Arabian money, with ethical questions everywhere. It was one to warm the hearts of the romantics.
It is fair to say that plenty has happened at Chelsea since their last game here – the Champions League last-16, first-leg win against Lille on 22 February. Abramovich has been identified by the UK government as an enabler of the Vladimir Putin regime and he has been stripped of his assets in this country, including Chelsea, which he must now sell. And with a degree of speed, if the stinging sanctions that are in place against the club are not to drag them under.
The match-going Chelsea support tried to process it all. Should they celebrate their affection for Abramovich? To some of them, it remains possible to do so and condemn his nation’s senseless war on Ukraine.
The banner was still up inside the ground – the one that says “Roman Empire” and has an image of him – and yet there was only one chant of Abramovich’s name that stood out in the 66th minute and it was quickly superseded by another for the manager, Thomas Tuchel, who really is the man in these parts.
It was edgy and uncomfortable, Chelsea labouring for much of the afternoon. And yet Havertz would provide something glorious at the very end. There were shades of Dennis Bergkamp about the way that he cushioned down a ball over the top from Jorginho and then, in the same movement and with the same foot, unloaded the finish past Martin Dubravka.
Havertz could very well have been sent off for an elbow on Dan Burn towards the end of the first half. Now he was the hero and he might have had a second goal in stoppage time only to be denied when Dubravka pushed his effort up and on to the crossbar and away.
Newcastle cursed their luck. Never mind the Havertz dismissal that was not, they were denied a penalty on 58 minutes when Jacob Murphy went down after a challenge from Trevoh Chalobah. Perhaps Murphy crumpled a little too obviously but Chalobah did have a hold of his shirt. Eddie Howe would rage about the decision, although he could be cheered by a performance of polish and discipline from his team.
When Havertz’s goal went in, Tuchel tore off on an ecstatic run along the touchline, the pent-up emotions pouring out and, briefly, everybody could forget about what a weird occasion it had been.
The trappings were everywhere. The Chelsea club shop remained closed, there was a sign saying that tickets were not available for the next home game against Brentford and the match-day programme, in which the captain, César Azpilicueta, offered a message of support for the Ukrainian people, was not on general sale.
The Saudi Arabia flags in the away end were jarring after what had happened 24 hours previously – the largest known mass execution carried out in the kingdom in its modern history.
Tuchel’s switch to a back four, with the centre-halves Chalobah and Malang Sarr in the full-back positions, was probably not the big news it might have been but, as the manager had stressed, Chelsea needed to narrow the focus and do their jobs on the pitch.
Tuchel has been hugely impressive in his public utterances, refusing to duck the difficult questions about the wider issues, to say what has needed to be said, and his attitude has been in stark contrast to the way that Howe essentially no-commented any non-football questions after the game. Perhaps, there was an element of liberation for Tuchel during the 90 minutes, when he could embrace the simple pleasure of losing the plot with the fourth official or the Newcastle assistant manager, Jason Tindall.
Havertz left Burn with a nasty cut to the head on 39 minutes when he led with the elbow in an aerial challenge. It could easily have been red; instead Havertz got away with yellow. Burn was understandably angry and, while he received treatment on the ground, he seemed to slap Havertz on the ankle as the Chelsea attacker walked past. Once Burn was vertical, he went after Havertz, which attracted the interest of Antonio Rüdiger. Burn, of course, would be booed by the home crowd.
Chelsea had continued to wear the branding of Three and Hyundai on their shirts, even though both sponsors have withdrawn their support. Apparently, the club worried that they could not pay for blank shirts from their kit supplier, Nike, and efforts to remove the logos from the existing tops did not work. All pretty surreal.
Newcastle were the better team in the first half, Burn flicking a header just wide and Miguel Almirón working Édouard Mendy with a banging volley while their fans provided the note of humour. “Mike Ashley, he’s coming for you,” they warned their Chelsea counterparts, mindful that their unloved former owner could be looking for a new gig.
Timo Werner’s control let him down when he chased a high ball forward in the 56th minute and Havertz headed straight at Dubravka. It did not look as though it would be Chelsea’s day. Havertz would turn it around.