It feels like a bit of déjà vu, doesn’t it? Just one week later, Chelsea take another trip to the northeast of England, but this time to Tyneside, as they take on Newcastle United at St. James Park in the lunchtime kickoff. Both teams are coming off of a midweek round of fixtures, but with very different results.
Chelsea will be coming into this match on the back of a 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur. While Spurs were starting to find a bit a form, it was the Blues who showed their ruthless and clinical finishing to continue their unbeaten run in all competitions this season. However, they will be wary of another trip to the northeast, given that their match against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light ended in a rather disappointing 0-0 draw. Even more interesting is that a Jose Mourinho-led Chelsea side has never won a match at St. James Park, and Chelsea have not won on Tyneside since 2011.
For Newcastle, their roller coaster of a season continues. The match midweek against Burnley was a microcosm of their season so far. For one half of football, Newcastle were completely abysmal, devoid of any real spark or creativity, and the Clarets could have been out of sight had they taken their chances. But after the break, manager Alan Pardew rearranged his side, and they came out of the blocks firing, equalising through Papiss Cisse, and could have gone on to win the match. That basically sums up their season so far, as Newcastle looked dead and buried early this season and supporters were calling for Pardew’s head. However, after rattling off six straight wins before their defeat to West Ham last Saturday, things are looking rosier for the Magpies, and they’ll be looking to regain a bit of that magic on Saturday.
Newcastle United — A Jekyll and Hyde story.
As I mentioned at the start, Newcastle United have really been like two different teams so far this season. At the start of the year, it looked like it could be a very long season for the Magpies and Alan Pardew could be the leading candidate in the sack race. The team struggled to score goals, struggled to keep goals out of their own net, and at times appeared lethargic and as if they had lost motivation. All these things only made Pardew’s seat a bit hotter, especially for a group of supporters that haven’t been convinced of his abilities since he took the helm.
To Newcastle’s great credit, as the buzzards swarmed around Pardew, their motivation and determination grew, resulting in a run of six wins from six that has them sitting in ninth place after a brief flirtation with the top four. However, there are signs that the squad may be coming back down to Earth after a defeat against West Ham where they never really got going and the draw to Burnley that saw them only really play for one half. That will need to improve if they are to get anything against Chelsea, as the Blues have shown to punish teams that hand them the initiative by not being sharp from the start.
On this trip to the northeast, don’t expect a parked bus.
The one thing that Sunderland were able to do against Chelsea was play a stout defensive game, maintaining an organised shape and defence, and frustrated Chelsea by not giving them space. There aren’t many teams in the league capable of playing that way, and certainly Newcastle is not one of them.
While Newcastle do have combative -type midfielders who can press the ball, like Cheick Tiote and Vurnon Anita, they also have a number of ball-playing midfielders, such as Jack Colback, who aren’t necessarily as gifted in that department. Even Moussa Sissoko, who is capable of defending and keeping shape, tends to want to make forward runs and be involved in that part of the game. In the case of Sissoko, that’s made him dangerous over the years, as he’s taken advantage of many a Chelsea player who didn’t track his runs. Last season, he terrorised his way down the flanks and was probably their most dangerous player.
The problem with playing that way against Chelsea is that they create enough space on their own without you leaving gaps for them to exploit. On Wednesday night, Spurs really started the game on the attack and did a good job of creating chances. But in the process of coming forward, they began to leave themselves exposed at the back, and that eventually saw Chelsea find gaps to attack, leading to the opening goal on 19 minutes and leading to Chelsea looking dangerous on every counterattack. This should be a warning sign for the Magpies, but the question is whether their attack-minded personnel can shift gears to a more organised defensive effort.
Injuries won’t help Newcastle much, either.
It’s tough enough to have to face Chelsea when you’re coming off the back of two poor performances. It’s worse when you have to do it with key injuries to three defenders. Fabricio Coloccini will once again miss out due to injury, and it’s likely that Mike Williamson and Daryl Janmaat will join him on the sidelines. While Coloccini hasn’t been in great form when fit, he is their most experienced defender in the side, and if Williamson doesn’t play, Steven Taylor and Paul Dummett will most likely feature as their center back pairing. That doesn’t bode well for Newcastle, particularly given the return of Diego Costa from suspension.
A bigger concern for that defence will be if Janmaat can’t play. Since moving this summer, Janmaat has locked down a right back position that could have been a major problem when they sold Mathieu Debuchy to Arsenal. Janmaat’s given them a more solid defensive base on that right side while still giving them width and attacking thrust. The bigger problem for Newcastle is that they don’t have a real replacement at right back with Coloccini out, meaning someone will have to play slightly out of position, with the mostly likely candidate being Anita.
As evidenced by Vlad Chiriches experiences midweek, right back is the one position that you don’t want to have to play a player out of position against Chelsea. That is the Eden Hazard flank, and if your defender can’t reasonably contain him, it will be quite a long day.
When Papiss Cisse starts scoring, beware.
Papiss Cisse is the definition of a form player. When he’s on form, he scores goals and they generally they come in bunches. When he’s off form, he can’t find the back of the net to save his life and can go long stretches without scoring. Against Burnley, Cisse registered his first goal in almost a month. Before that drought, he had registered 4 goals in 3 matches, scoring braces in matches against Hull City and Swansea.
Cisse still is very important to a side that struggles for goals, especially given that he is the most experienced striker in the squad. Emmanuel Riviere and Ayoze Perez, two summer signings, have combined to score five goals, but both have shown flashes of brilliance and flashes of still coming to grips with the league. With Cisse still remaining the most experienced striker at the club, Newcastle do need to hope that he’s gaining a good run of form in order to score the goals needed, particularly if they can’t stop Chelsea from scoring.