Frank Lampard indicated the importance of strength in depth to Chelsea’s hopes of sustaining a Premier League title challenge after his side barely broke sweat in a 2-0 win over Newcastle at St James’ Park.
An early Federico Fernandez own goal paved the way for Lampard’s men to claim a fifth straight win in all competitions, with Tammy Abraham sealing victory after a lung-bursting run by Timo Werner midway through the second half.
The return to full fitness of N’Golo Kante and the defensive riches at his disposal have left Lampard in a confident place ahead of a frantic festive period which is likely to define their chances of a title push.
Slotting Antonio Rudiger in at centre-back in place of Thiago Silva, who was fatigued after international duty, Lampard reflected: “Many managers would love having five centre-backs but it brings difficulties because you can only pick two.
“It’s not easy to ask them to come straight into the team and perform because it means they need a good attitude through the week and how they prepare.
“But I’ve got confidence in Toni and I thought his performance alongside Kurt (Zouma) was very strong.
“It’s hugely important for us to have a strong squad this year with the schedule as it is, and for Toni to come in and play and keep a clean sheet is brilliant for me and for him.”
Kante was key to a dominant Chelsea display, which began when Fernandez stumbled over a Mason Mount cross and knocked the ball past his own goalkeeper Karl Darlow, who had already saved well to deny Werner and Abraham.
Chelsea put the game beyond doubt in the 65th minute when the excellent Werner burst over the halfway line and unselfishly squared for Abraham to compete the job, but it was a win built on the industriousness of Kante in midfield.
“We’ve been working very hard to get him fit and fresh and his levels and performance are really, really high,” Lampard said of Kante.
“I just have so much faith in him and the top player he is in world football. We have had a better period to get him in a place where we’re really happy.
“Every time you allow him off the leash in training he makes ridiculous output because that’s the way he plays, so we are very careful with that and at the moment we are in a very good place.”
Newcastle’s chances comprised a pair of half-chances for an otherwise subdued Allan Saint-Maximin and a crashing second-half effort from Sean Longstaff which struck the crossbar from 30 yards.
Magpies boss Steve Bruce acknowledged his frustration over yet another poor start from his side, and looked ahead to the “huge” festive programme which is likely to dictate his side’s season.
“The one thing we miss like most big clubs is the atmosphere inside the stadium,” said Bruce. “But I think in the second half they would have seen the team do a lot better.
“We have to stay with it. I make no excuses but fixtures have been tough lately. We’ve got a huge few weeks coming up and let’s hope we can get a few results.”
Bruce faces an injury concern over captain Jamaal Lascelles, who picked up a knee injury in a first-half challenge on Werner, but was ultimately forced off with a thigh problem at the start of the second period.
Bruce added: “”He hurt his knee but the reason why he’s come off is not because of that – when he ran on he felt his thigh. It’s a strange and unique situation and we won’t know how bad it is until Monday.”