After a pointless international break comes a game against an almost pointless side, as Newcastle United come to Stamford Bridge for a rare Saturday afternoon kick-off. I say pointless not in the sense of complete superfluity like, say, ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ or a Spurs goalkeeper, but pointless as in Newcastle accumulating just 13 points from 13 games so far this season. In a Premier League table which is tighter than a pair of Jamie Redknapp’s trousers, Newcastle are just two points off the bottom but only two wins away from seventh, however with wins a rare commodity so far for the Magpies, it’s the former option which is looking ominously credible.
Newcastle’s mini-revival under Joe Kinnear has come to an abrupt end, and reality is again kicking in for the Geordie fans. Having lost to Fulham two weekends ago, a 2-2 draw against ten man Wigan last week – featuring a late Titus Bramble equaliser, as the error-prone defender continues to take points from Newcastle despite leaving the club a few years ago – wasn’t enough to take Kinnear’s side away from the bottom four. As well as struggling to find form, another constant from Newcastle’s recent league campaigns has been a crippling injury list, and this year has been no different.
Alan Smith, Joey Barton (boo), Nacho Gonzalez, and Mark Viduka are all definitely out while centre-back Steven Taylor and striker Xisco are doubts for the game. Michael Owen is always touch and go, and could easily get injured somehow between now and 3pm on Saturday, while Geremi and Damien Duff could be in line for a return to Stamford Bridge, both men former Blues and fondly remembered by the Chelsea fans.
Whereas Newcastle could claim to be a leading side in terms of the Premier League injury table, their usual place at the summit has been snatched by our very own walking wounded. With a maximum of nine players out injured, Luis Felipe Scolari’s squad selection is starting to look uncomfortably straightforward, meaning Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda are almost guaranteed starts EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK.
Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, Juliano Belletti, Ashley Cole, Ricardo Carvalho and Joe Cole are all doubts but could return for Saturday, while Franco di Santo, Alex and Michael Essien are all definitely on the sidelines. Didier Drogba is suspended after charitably giving a pound coin generously back to the Burnley fans on that dark Wednesday, but with Nicolas Anelka banging in eight goals in the last four games, the Frenchman has admirably taken on the mantel of goalscorer supreme.
Although recent games at St James’ Park have been, at times, uncomfortable (see 2006/07, 2005/06, 2004/05 twice, 2003/04 and indeed, 2002/03) it’s been nothing but joy at the Bridge. In the last ten games – in all competitions – we have scored 24 and only conceded three, winning nine and drawing one. The last time Newcastle tasted victory at Chelsea was back in November 1986, with a 3-1 win in the old First Division.
The last meeting in the League was almost a shock to the system however. Sam Allardyce brought his struggling Newcastle side to SW6 in late December against a depleted Chelsea side led by Avram Grant. Despite opening the scoring through Essien, the Blues contrived to lose their lead in the second-half, with Nicky Butt equalising just over ten minutes after the break. As Grant replaced Joe Cole with Claudio Pizarro and later Michael Ballack with Scott Sinclair, the catcalls from the Chelsea crowd intensified to a hostile level, and with the Israeli boss never the most popular of figures, it seemed as if the fans weren’t prepared to bottle their feelings in. However, a late Kalou goal from an offside position sealed the points for the home side and Grant – as well as Chelsea’s title challenge – lived on.
With Newcastle struggling, and crisis after crisis stacking up in front of Joe Kinnear, they would do well to repeat last season’s performance. Instead, its more likely that the final whistle will again see the points go Chelsea’s way. Expect goals, action, and probably about eight injuries for both sides.
Prediction: Another disappointing weekend for the club now known as Sorry Newcastle. We tend to rack them up against the Magpies, and with goals flying in recently, particularly for Mr Anelka, I’m going for an ambitious 3-0.