While Newcastle are not the fourth place team, a victory against Newcastle can continue to heap pressure on Tottenham who are tied with Newcastle on 62 points, and just one point ahead of Chelsea.
Newcastle visit Stamford Bridge on Wednesday to face a Chelsea side who couldn’t have more confidence.
After the emotional victory over Barcelona, a letdown could be umderstood from the Blues against QPR. Yet, the Blues showed great resilience in beating the relegation battlers 6-1 with Fernando Torres firing a hat trick in victory.
Newcastle, meanwhile, faced a relegation-battling side of their own on Saturday when they travelled to the DW Stadium to face Wigan, yet failed to score and were handed a 4-0 defeat.
Needless to say, the Toon will need a victory over Chelsea to keep their Champions League hopes alive, while Chelsea will be looking to get closer to fourth place to gain automatic qualification, despite being able to win the Champions League outright.
First thing about Newcastle is that they are quite a clinical finishing side.
Since the acquisition of Papiss Cisse in January, the Senegal man has done nothing but score goals. In 11 matches for the club, he’s found the net 11 times.
Couple him with his fellow countryman, Demba Ba and his 16 goals in 33 matches, and you have two strikers that in 44 man games, have score 27 times, for a rate of better than a goal a game.
It’s that clinical finishing that has aided Newcastle to fourth place, giving them the genuine strikers that they’ve been longing to have since the departure of Alan Shearer.
The downside is that Newcastle are almost entirely dependent on those two to score. The rest of the team has a combined goal total of 33 goals, meaning that Cisse and Ba have accounted for 45% of Newcastle’s goals.
It’s safe to assume if you stop them from scoring, as Wigan did on Saturday, they have trouble finding the goals to beat you from others.
Second thing: Ba and Cisse don’t play as a true tandem, especially since the return of Hatem Ben Arfa.
The easiest way to stop the scoring is to realise that Newcastle don’t really pair them as a strike partnership, rather Ba will drop off of Cisse, and plays a link man between Cisse and the rest of the team.
The complication is added when you add Jonas and Hatem Ben Arfa to the equation. Ben Arfa is as good as advertised with the ball at his feet, but he doesn’t always compliment the front two because of his willingness to drift in from the right. He doesn’t play as a true wide right player, so he plays in the hole in a similar position to where Ba wants to come deep to link play.
Included in that is that Ba and Ben Arfa don’t really come deep to aid in defense, meaning that Newcastle are usually outnumbered in on their right and through the middle.
Yohan Cabaye is a brilliant find for Newcastle, but he’s also very easy to contain.
Yohan Cabaye is the sole deep distributor in the Newcastle side, and he’s very good at what he does. He can play any pass that he needs to and can also win a tackle.
However, it’s very easy to isolate him and crowd him out because his midfield partner, Cheik Tiote is not the best passer of the ball, but can win a tackle. If you crowd out Cabaye, you cut off the supply to Ba and Ben Arfa making it harder to make the link to Cisse in attack.
This is magnified by the fact of the previous point. If Cabaye is crowded out in midfield and Ba and Ben Arfa look to play high, they have no choice but to play more direct from defence, and it gives you chances to win it back in the middle and counter down the flanks, which is just what Wigan did to them last Saturday.
The Newcastle CBs are the weakest part of the team.
Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini are not world class CBs. While they were fine for Newcastle against most mid-table Premier League sides, neither deal well with pace or players that run at them. Against Wigan, their spacing was so bad that you could drive two trucks through that space.
They normally are hidden a little because of the play of Cabaye and Tiote working a shield, but if they get no help from Jonas, Ba, or Ben Arfa, they leave the backline exposed.
Fernando Torres must start, but Drogba needs to come on for a run out late.
Torres must start this match, not just because of the hat trick on Sunday, but for three reasons.
First, Torres has never really played convincingly against Liverpool, and it can be inferred that whoever plays against Newcastle will probably start on the bench at Wembley.
Two, the space afforded and the problems that Coloccini and Williamson had with Di Santo and Moses running at them plays better to Torres game than Didier Drogba. While Drogba is great with his back to goal, Torres showed a willingness to run with the ball, and his ability to make runs through central spaces from deeper areas means that Newcastle’s CBs lack of pace and positioning can be exposed.
Three, Drogba ran himself into the ground over two legs against Barcelona and has earned himself a nice little break to nurse a few niggling injuries. In addition, Drogba is still the man for the big occasion, especially at Wembley, where his scoring record is impeccable.
Suffice it to say, I think that Newcastle have been pulling above their weight, slightly, all season. I think it’s going to be a massive test for them over the last three matches, where they face Chelsea, Manchester City, and Everton. Should they manage to get 4th place out of that run of games, they deserve it, but I don’t see it happening.
Underrated in all of this is the fact that the fringe players see the number of suspensions for the Champions League final and are queuing up to audition for a place. That desire should carry the side to a comfortable victory on Wednesday night.