Champions League finalists Chelsea must put any thoughts of the Moscow showpiece to one side this Bank Holiday Monday, as they travel up to Newcastle with three points separating the Blues and Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table. As expected, West Ham rolled over for United at Old Trafford on Saturday, creating the points gap in the league. Therefore, anything other than a win for Chelsea against the Magpies could hand Alex Ferguson’s side the title. Unthinkable!
After the highs of Wednesday night and the triumph over Liverpool in the Champions League, it’s back to the bread and butter of the league, and with the title still a mathematical possibility, Avram Grant will surely pick a strong side against Newcastle United. With Carlo Cudicini the only real injury doubt and no suspensions to speak of, the players are there to be chosen. There could be a few dilemmas for Grant however; Michael Essien at right-back or midfield? Nicolas Anelka or Didier Drogba? Frank Lampard AND Michael Ballack? Our squad has proved time and time again this season that we have strength in depth, and Monday could be another opportunity to show our power.
Newcastle began the season in their usual guise, with plenty of big pre-campaign talk quashed by terrible on-field performances. However, since the shock re-appointment of Kevin Keegan as manager, the North-East side have looked a different outfit altogether. Boasting an inpressive front three of Mark Viduka, Obafemi Martins and Michael Owen (albeit in a deeper role than he is accustomed to), Newcastle certainly have goals in them, but it’s often the other end which lets the rest of the team down. They have conceded 60 goals this season, with only Reading and Derby County (big surprise) leaking more, which shows a very vulnerable backbone. With first-choice ‘keeper Shay Given out for the season, Steve Harper will continue in goal, while Emre, Cacapa, and Stephen Carr could join Given on the sidelines. All three are doubts.
Last time we played Newcastle, we snatched the three points in a heated and controversial game at Stamford Bridge back at the end of December of last year. Essien’s opening goal was cancelled out by a Nicky Butt equaliser in the second-half, which saw Avram Grant forced into making changes. However, as he withdrew Michael Ballack and Joe Cole (rather than the disappointing Salomon Kalou), boos rang out both times followed by chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing,” from the Bridge faithful. Grant had the last laugh however, as it was Kalou who bagged the winner with just minutes to go, although it was from a blatantly offside position!
It is usually a different story at St. James’ Park though, with no league win in the last five attempts for Chelsea. A 1-0 victory in last year’s triumphant League Cup run was a rare win for the Blues at Newcastle, and the last time they bagged three points was back in December 2001, with two Eidur Gudjohnsen strikes either side of an Alan Shearer goal.
With Manchester United moving ahead in the Premier League once again, Chelsea are again forced to chase, and three points on Monday would put them right back in the hunt as we approach the final day of the league season. The Blues have been fruitless on previous occasions at Newcastle, but something has got to give and hopefully it does this Bank Holiday. Let’s take it to the wire.
Prediction: They’ve been good, but not that good, and Newcastle stuttered last week against West Ham, meaning we should be able to take advantage. I’m going for an ambitious 2-0 win.