London (AFP) – Kai Havertz eased Chelsea’s gloom over Roman Abramovich’s sanctions as his late goal sealed a 1-0 win against Newcastle in the first home game since the Blues were plunged into crisis by the damaging restrictions.
Chelsea owner Abramovich has been sanctioned by the British government after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the fall-out has placed the future of the European champions in doubt.
With Chelsea’s monthly wage bill estimated at around £28 million ($36.5) and their revenue streams dramatically reduced by the sanctions, there are fears the club’s existence could be under threat unless a new owner is found soon.
Unable to sign players or renew contracts, Chelsea have seen sponsors Three and Hyundai suspend their deals with the club this week.
But Thomas Tuchel’s side have kept their heads amid the mayhem and Havertz struck late on to make it four successive wins since Abramovich announced he would sell the club in a move that failed to stop the sanctions.
Chelsea remain in third place in the Premier League and turn their attention to defending a 2-0 lead in the Champions League last 16 second leg clash with Lille on Wednesday.
Retaining their Champions League crown was Chelsea’s main goal just a week ago, but now it is the least of their concerns.
Tuchel admitted before kick-off that he has not been given any guarantees over the club’s future.
“No assurances, and I think anybody who gives an assurance should not be trusted because no one knows, this is my opinion, what’s coming,” he said.
Chelsea technical advisor Petr Cech conceded the main focus is ensuring the club can make it to the end of the season.
“Of course we have people from the club talking to the Government about the licence, about what we can do so we can carry on and try to finish the season as best we can,” Cech said.
Stamford Bridge was full to capacity for what might be the last time for a while given the club are restricted from selling any new tickets for future matches.
– ‘Mike Ashley, he’s coming for you’ –
After Chelsea fans had chanted Abramovich’s name during Thursday’s win at Norwich, there was more muted vocal support for the Russian this time, with his name sung briefly in the second half.
The sight of Chelsea’s former captain John Terry in the stands was poignant for fans concerned about the future.
Terry led Chelsea to their first Premier League title for 50 years in the early days of the Abramovich era, starting a golden period that reaped 19 major trophies since 2003.
One fan summed up the feeling that Chelsea have been harshly treated by the sanctions, holding up a banner reading “It’s not the fans’ war”, while a graffiti message outside the stadium said “leave our club alone”.
Newcastle fans weren’t so sympathetic, chanting “no noise from the bankrupt boys” before a tongue-in-cheek reference to their hated former owner as they sang “Mike Ashley, he’s coming for you”.
Newcastle, of course, also have a controversial ownership regime, with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund buying the club last year to widespread criticism of the country’s dubious human rights record.
Well aware of those issues, Chelsea fans responded to the Newcastle taunts by chanting “Boris Johnson, he’s coming for you”.
What was once a routine Premier League match had been transformed into a study in geopolitics.
Chelsea were still wearing shirts with the Three logo despite the mobile phone company’s request for the them to be removed.
That defiance extended to the players, although Newcastle almost snatched the lead as Dan Burn’s header glanced narrowly wide before Miguel Almiron’s fierce volley forced a sprawling save from Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy.
Havertz settled it in the 89th minute, taking a superb touch to control Jorginho’s sublime long pass before slotting past Martin Dubravka to spark a fist-pumping celebration from Tuchel.
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