On Wednesday, newly promoted Newcastle United visit Stamford Bridge for the first time in two seasons for their matchup in the Third Round of the Carling Cup. Having suffered relegation from the Premier League in the 2008-2009 season, the Toon have come back with a vengeance, gaining automatic promotion last season under the guidance of Chris Hughton. Hughton replaced Alan Shearer as full time manager following that fateful season, and guided the team to automatic promotion with five games left in the season.
The faces have changed, as Mike Ashley has trimmed the wage bill of high priced stars and gone with a mixture of youth and experience, led by their captain Kevin Nolan and vice-captain, and former Manchester United striker, Alan Smith. Newcastle also have quality with Argentinean internationals Jonas and Fabricio Coloccini, while young striker Andy Carroll is beginning to make his mark on the game. Despite what Alan Shearer says, the whole world seems to know about Hatem Ben Arfa, who is on loan from Marseille. The 23-year-old Frenchman made his mark at Olympique Lyonnais before moving to Marseille and is considered to be one of the future replacements for Zidane, along with Samir Nasri and Yoann Gourcuff. However, perceived bouts of unprofessionalism have plagued him and he’s never really reached his potential yet.
Regardless, Newcastle have a squad that is capable of threatening Chelsea in a knockout competition, and Hughton and his men sit sixth in the Premier League, with seven points, having won, lost, and drawn away from home this season.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have been in immense form this season, scoring 21 goals and conceding just one. Their form has guided them to 15 points from their 5 wins while rarely looking as if they needed to reach a higher gear. The key players are well known, as the Chelsea forward line has been responsible for 17 of their 21 league goals. The scoring leader is not, however, Didier Drogba. The talismanic striker has just 5 goals this season and Florent Malouda, who has netted 6 times, has usurped his position. Salomon Kalou has chipped in with 4 goals of his own while Nicolas Anelka has 2.
The question is whether any of the above will play a part in this fixture, since the Blues are nearing the end of a run of 7 games in 20 days. In addition, this is the Carling Cup, so Carlo Ancelotti may opt for a more youthful approach, giving time to the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Gael Kakuta, and a number of other youth players.
We do know that Chelsea will be without their captain and vice-captain for the match. Frank Lampard is still not quite fit after his hernia operation and John Terry is sidelined with a nagging rib injury. Ancelotti has already confirmed that both will miss the upcoming game, but should be fit for the trip to Eastlands on Saturday. Chelsea will also be missing Hilario after having his tonsils removed, meaning that Ross Turnbull may get a start in goal. The only other long term injury is Jose Bosingwa, who’s begun training but is still short of fitness, but may be available for the reserves in the next few weeks.