Former Napoli bosses Maurizio Sarri and Rafael Benitez went head to head at St James’ Park, with the Chelsea head coach claiming bragging rights as the Blues beat Newcastle 2-1.
It was a tactical battle from which Sarri eventually came out on top.
For the first time as Chelsea boss, Sarri felt able to restore star man Eden Hazard to the starting XI – an upgrade in any circumstances and one that yielded a typically clinical penalty.
There was also a middling first start for Real Madrid loanee Mateo Kovacic as Ross Barkley and Willian dropped to the bench. They were joined there by England’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek following his absence from the matchday squad last week but he did not make the pitch.
Benitez was dealt a pair of injury blows, with captain Jamaal Lascelles and playmaker Jonjo Shelvey both ruled out.
Federico Fernandez, Ki Sung-yueng and Fabian Schar all made competitive debuts in the inevitable reshuffle, with Salomon Rondon in from the start up front.
Benitez, perhaps motivated by the loss of key personnel, adopted a tight, defensive shape and limited attacking ambition. That meant three centre-backs with DeAndre Yedlin and Paul Dummett tucking in to make a back five.
It was an unpretty but mostly effective decision, with the visitors taking 76 minutes to make the breakthrough with a dubious penalty and winning it with a Yedlin own goal.
Sarri continued to deploy his preferred 4-3-3 variant. The only real difference was the presence of Hazard, whose roaming style and ball-playing skill demand a freer role regardless of the system.
As ever the job of relaying the coach’s instructions and preferences fell to his old Napoli cohort Jorginho, a constant communicator in the middle of the park.
Both sides hooked their primary striker and neither Salomon Rondon nor Alvaro Morata can have much complaint.
Both replacements were involved in the equalising goal but while Olivier Giroud was left claiming a foul on the turf, Joselu was the most alert man on the pitch, sneaking in front of David Luiz to nod Newcastle level.
Willian – on for Pedro – floated in the free-kick from which Chelsea’s winner came, with Giroud winning a crucial far-post header. Ayoze Perez, a late arrival, blasted over from his only real chance.