With Chelsea’s crisis averted for now after a vital, yet controversial, win over Arsenal last Saturday, the Blues’ attentions will turn now to a trip to St. James Park where they will face a Newcastle side that’s in a bit of a crisis of their own. Discontent spreads throughout the Newcastle supporters as the year 2015 might be one that they wish could be stricken from the club’s history. So far in 2015, the Magpies have registered just three wins, spanning last season and the first seven matches of the current season. It’s not just a lack of wins that’s the issue either. They’ve also suffered quite a number of defeats, as evidenced by earning just 15 points of a possible 75 in this calendar year, and just to rub salt in the wounds — a home defeat in the Capital One Cup to a Sheffield Wednesday side that made 10 changes. Suffice it to say, if there was ever a chance for Chelsea to put a beating on a team, this would be it.
However, trips to St. James Park are rarely that straightforward anymore. Chelsea have faced defeats in their last three trips to the northeast, and a Jose Mourinho-managed Chelsea have not won at St. James Park in either of his two stints at the club. In fact, last season, the Blues were flying high with talks of a side that could go unbeaten in the league, only to travel to Newcastle and face their first defeat of the season.
Chelsea’s form this season hasn’t been anywhere near the heights of last season’s start, but last week’s win against Arsenal is a result that could jump-start the team. However, a bad defeat to Newcastle on Saturday could undo all the progress the team has made over the last two weeks and send them back to London with a few questions to answer.
Chelsea, beware of the wounded animal that is Newcastle.
The one big thing coming into this match will be the state of both sides psychologically. For Chelsea, that win over Arsenal was big not just because it was a win over a team that they’ve dominated over the past few years, but it seemed to bring about a performance that was a far cry from the side that looked slow and off the pace against the likes of Everton and Crystal Palace. However, football is such a strange game in that one really bad result can send your team right back where they started, and a loss to a Newcastle side that, let’s face it, has looked dire and rather disinterested over the last year could really prove to be a setback with FC Porto on the horizon midweek.
And it’s not as if Newcastle aren’t capable of pulling a surprise result at home once again against Chelsea. If you look at their squad, it’s not a terrible collection of players. Manager Steve McClaren has plenty of talent at his disposal, but right now that talent looks either bereft of confidence or as if they can’t be bothered to turn up. This summer, Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic were brought in as big additions to their front line but have been largely disappointing. Wijnaldum showed great signs of life in his first few matches before tailing off, and we haven’t really seen the ability that Mitrovic showed at Anderlecht, primarily because his temperament has been a bit of an issue.
However, they still have Moussa Sissoko and the Chelsea killer Papiss Cisse, so an upset is always on the cards, albeit not the likeliest of scenarios to take place on Saturday.
Chelsea must be aware of Moussa Sissoko’s threat on the counterattack.
If there’s one man other than Papiss Cisse that’s caused problems for Chelsea in their last three defeats it’s been Moussa Sissoko. The interesting thing about Sissoko is that if you were to categorize his skill set, he would most likely fit the mould of a box-to-box midfielder or an attacking midfielder with pace and power. However, often Newcastle have been using him in the wider areas, and at times, I think, it causes him to be a bit more of a peripheral figure than I think you would like, with that ability to drive a midfield
Against Chelsea, however, that position has worked out very well in that his pace out wide has always given them an out ball, even when Cisse isn’t effective or isn’t playing well. Newcastle, until the arrival of Mitrovic, only really had Cisse to play the ball forward on clearances in order to release the pressure in their own half. But when playing the Blues, Newcastle have often taken advantage of adventurous midfielders and fullbacks and played long diagonals or wide balls down the line or over the top in order to take advantage of Sissoko’s pace against a fullback.
It’s something Chelsea have to be very wary of, particularly given the continuing form of Branislav Ivanovic against players similar to Sissoko. Against Alexis Sanchez last week, he played very well, but he also had a massive size advantage over Alexis and Arsenal really failed to exploit that matchup. But against Palace and Yannick Bolasie and against Everton and Steven Naismith and Arouna Kone, he was exposed on that type of play. I would expect that Newcastle will have seen that possible weakness, and it’s an area that Chelsea should be worried about, mostly because of the type of player that Sissoko can be.
Newcastle have their own wind-up merchant in Mitrovic.
In a week dominated by the various deeds of Diego Costa in last week’s match against Arsenal and his subsequent ban, Newcastle’s Aleksandar Mitrovic returns from his own three-match ban, ironically for a red card 16 minutes into a match against Arsenal, to face the Blues. Whether he will be chose to start or not remains to be seen, but much like Costa, he has an aggressive streak about him, as evidenced by both the red card and the fact that he was booked for a bad challenge just 3 seconds into his Premier League debut as a substitute.
There is a slight difference between the two, however, and that’s that Mitrovic occasionally bends the rules in a much more aggressive way, in that he tends to kick back when opponents kick him, has been known to aim a few elbows here and there, and generally plays a very physical style, rather than just simply get under the skin of an opponent.
However, he does possess immense skill when he’s at his best, as evidenced by his 27 goals for Anderlecht last season. Plus, he’s the ultimate penalty box player. He’s strong in the air and quick enough to anticipate through balls for scoring chances.His only real problem has been his temperament, and it’ll be interesting if McClaren elects to play him over the largely ineffective Cisse. While he’s much more likely to get a goal than Cisse, he’s also much more likely to go overboard with the aggression and find himself on the wrong side of the rules, which would almost rub more salt into the wounds on Tyneside.
Loic Remy or Falcao might actually be a better choice for this match than Diego Costa.
The one thing that is known about this match is that Diego Costa will serve the second match of his three-match ban, and Jose Mourinho will choose between Remy and Falcao to lead the line. To me, the interesting thing is that Remy and Falcao both may be a better choice to start, given how Fabricio Coloccini has a tendency to switch off.
Newcastle’s center backs this season haven’t been as woeful as their inability to score goals, but when you watch them, you always feel like you’re going to get a few chances due to a lack of concentration. As the club captain, you would expect Coloccini to take command of the defence, but he’s oftentimes their weak link. Coloccini’s not a bad defender, but he lacks a bit of pace and tends to lose concentration at the most inopportune times, whether it be playing a loose pass or simply failing to see the striker ghost in behind him.
Last season, though, he played some of his best games against Diego Costa, possibly because he was better prepared for a more physical battle, but against Remy and Falcao, he’ll have to deal a little more with pace and anticipation, which is much more mental.
The likelihood is that Remy will lead the lead, and I think he deserves the opportunity. He started against Maccabi Tel-Aviv and was playing well until an injury to Willian forced Remy to play in a wider position. He also played quite well against Walsall and has looked sharp when he’s played. That’s not to say that Falcao hasn’t shown his glimpses of glory. From watching him, his movement and anticipation look far sharper than anything he produced at United last season. His problem is that he just can’t seem to find the net, and seeing two balls hacked off the line and a shot nearly fly out of the Banks’s Stadium against Walsall won’t have helped that much.
Regardless of who starts, it should present a different challenge for Chancel Mbemba and Coloccini from the physical battle they would have faced with Costa. But it means that it’s imperative that both center backs keep their focus because Costa’s replacements are more than capable of ghosting into goalscoring positions and hurting them.