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Shipped from abroad, England: League clearly irrelevant for Chelsea, Liverpool … Newcastle?

May 2, 2012, 7:51 PM EDT

Newcastle United's Papiss Cisse (L) is c Getty Images

Argue that Liverpool’s potential trophy haul (two) offsets their league swoon and you’ll likely finds new friends from Chelsea’s camp. The Blues’ disappointing home display on Wednesday almost assures they’ll finish outside the top four for the first time in 10 years. But they’re in the Champions League final, so I guess that doesn’t matter. They lost 2-0 at Stamford Bridge. Who cares?

Judging by Roberto di Matteo’s selection, he doesn’t. At least, it seems he came to grips with losing before the opening whistle. With Saturday’s FA Cup final on the horizon, Chelsea’s manager made it very clear who’ll be selected for Wembley. Didier Drogba sat. Frank Lampard sat, as did Ashley Cole and Juan Mata. John Terry played, but that’s only because Chelsea’s central defenders are nearly all tapped out. As always, Fernando Torres starting was the biggest indicator of Chelsea’s intent (no, a hat trick against QPR doesn’t change that).

But here we are, three paragraphs into an England update, and we’ve failed to mention to whom Chelsea lost. Newcastle got two more goals from Papiss Demba Cisse (who, by my erroneous count, is up to 102 goals in 14 games since moving from Freiburg), and their fifth place position (tied for fourth with Spurs, on points) justifies more than the passing phase or patronizing analysis they’ve been treated to all year. Though they still have to navigate an impending meeting with Manchester City to pose a serious challenge to Spurs, Newcastle has locked up a place in Europe, something few pegged them for before the season.

Back then, nobody had can of chestnuts to crack open for the Magpies. Who is this Yoann Cabaye guy? From Lille? He’s certainly no Joe Cole. And they’ll have to resort to Tim Krul in net? Oh, my. I’ve got nothing to say about him. Demba Ba’s their striker? Well, he couldn’t keep West Ham up. They’ll do well to survive. (Full disclose, I picked them eighth, so I both resemble this and am gloating.)

Given how much media on each side of the pond has relied on the “Moneyball” crutch for content, Newcastle should really be getting more column inches. Or whatever column inches are in the digital world. Within the last two years they’ve let Andy Carroll, Jose Enrique, Kevin Nolan, and Joey Barton go. In their place  they’ve looked abroad for value buys – players who can use Newcastle as a shop window and a foot in the door of English soccer. Ba, Cisse, Cabaye, Chiek Tiote, Gabriel Obertan, Davide Santon, Hatem Ben Arfa’s combined transfer fees come in at £5 million less than Andy Carroll’s.

In fairness, it’s difficult to trump a victor’s virtues when their opposition’s not giving their best effort. And given major media’s need to generate hits and keep promises to their advertisers, it’s no surprise that the six big boys have relegated the Magpies success to blogs and social media. Site stats bare it out: Few people go to major sites for Magpie content. Even as Newcastle looks set to spend the season’s last days fighting for a Champions League spot, only the insatiable soccer consumer is digging for more stories about the Toon. Then again, they’re insatiable.

Most sites are more interesting in looking at Chelsea and Liverpool and debating the significance of a league most see as being wrapped up on Monday. Today, Chelsea revealed their view, ting to rest the heart of their team ahead of a cup final. Yesterday, Liverpool’s latest step toward mediocrity made their feelings clear.

But if you want a real measure of how little placement in this season’s table matters, search for the adulates greeting Newcastle’s rise. Don’t waste too much time, though. Aside from the devoted fan blog or the subtly irony a mainstreamer is using to provide counter-narrative (wink), you’re unlikely to find them.

Elsewhere in England

Tuesday’s results
Liverpool 0-1 Fulham
Stoke City 1-1 Everton

Wednesday’s results
Chelsea 0-2 Newcastle
Bolton 1-4 Tottenham

Races

Champions League: Manchester City (83 points/36 games), Manchester United (83/36), Arsenal (66/36), Tottenham (64/36)*

Europa League: Newcastle (64/36) (Liverpool has already qualified by virtue of winning the League Cup; Chelsea has qualified by virtue of making the FA Cup final)

Survival (relegation): Aston Villa (37/36), Wigan (37/36), QPR (34/36), Bolton (34/36), Blackburn (31/36)

* – if Chelsea wins Champions League, they take Spurs’ spot in the 2012-13 tournament, relegating Tottenham to Europa.

Stuff that stuck out:

  • With the loss, Chelsea sits sixth, leaving the fight for fourth to Tottenham and Newcastle. A week ago Spurs were thought to be conceding fourth to the Magpies, but seemingly seconds before the specter of the England national team chalice stopped hovering over Harry Redknapp, Tottenham start winning.
  • Bolton’s games in hand are now used up, and they sit 18th and close out the season with winnable matches against West Brom and (at) Stoke. QPR hosts Stoke before visiting the Etihad. Don’t sleep on Villa. They’re winless in eight, and led by the most dispiriting manager in the Premier League, they’re far from safety.
  • Peter Crouch’s Tuesday opener may have been for the wrong team, but it was still the 10,000the goal in Premier League history. Which means nothing.
  • Papiss Demba Cissé scored both goals at Stamford Bridge, including this … this-ness. Uhhhh …
  • Fortresses aren’t made like they’re used to. Or, at least, teams are less interested in erecting them than they’re used to. Both Liverpool and Chelsea must in a couple of “meh” performances mid-week, something you can’t really fault them for in light of Saturday’s stakes. It’s still a bit strange seeing them not only lose but also be blanked.

Up next: Two huge matches this weekend: Saturday’s FA Cup final and Sunday’s visit to Newcastle from Manchester City. We’ll probably do some offshore drilling on each.

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