After Wednesday night’s efforts booked us a league cup semi-final date with Manchester United, it’s back to the main course of Premiership football on Saturday with a lunchtime kick off at home to Newcastle United who are currently sitting tenth in the Premiership.
We won this fixture 5-0 last season with goals from Johnson, Crespo, Lampard, Duff and Gudjohnson. Newcastle also had Andy O’Brien sent off for a professional foul on Adrian Mutu. Much has changed since then, most notably in the management departments. Out have gone the irrepressible Claudio Ranieri and the legend that is Bobby Robson, and in their places have come ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho and of course, Graeme Souness.
Souness seems to have added steel to a Newcastle team that had been missing under Robson; this is despite losing his best defender (when fit!) to Real Madrid in the summer. He appears to have curbed certain players’ wild ways that has for so long done a dis-service to Newcastle Football Club and has got them starting to play as more of a team again. Jermain Jenas is beginning to show his potential and Lauren Robert is looking dangerous, just as he was against us in the league cup. Even so, they still seem a bit lightweight at the back and I think this is something that Duff and Robben, probably starting alongside Eidur up-front, should be able to exploit.
With Shearer out injured, Craig Bellamy is the one to watch as his pace and trickery can cause most teams problems. Bellamy seems to have forged a better understanding with Kluivert in recent matches and our defence, probably Terry and Carvalho with Gallas at left back and Ferreira on the right, will have to stay alert to any balls over the top or quick counter attacks. Nicky Butt is a big loss to the Newcastle engine room and is out until New Year after a scan revealed tendonitis in his hamstring. I think we’ll see Tiago filling the third spot in mid-field, alongside Makelélé and Lampard, who will be making his 124th consecutive Premiership match.
We’ve beaten Newcastle recently, on their ground in the league cup but we didn’t really have our full strength team out until the final phase of the game, which is when we scored and won.
Newcastle have an appalling record in London, but have not lost here since Souness arrived, they have scored as many as us (27 scored) but they also have one of the worst defences in the league (27 conceded). We’ve been scoring goals freely of late but I expect Newcastle to try to shut up shop and catch us on the break. A Chelsea victory will take us eight points clear for at least a few hours due to the early kick off, we would also have a better points haul, 39 points after 16 games, than we have ever had at this point in any previous Premiership season.
Chelsea have no new injury worries and with Huth returning to full training, we now only have Forrsell in the treatment room so Jose has a full strength squad to chose from. We come into this match in good form and I expect to see Jose’s strongest line-up start the match. Three points are vital in this game to keep up the pressure on Arsenal, especially with the all important encounter looming on the horizon.
Referee: Rob Styles