A Blue Up North previews our match away to Newcastle United.
This Sunday sees Chelsea travel up to the North East as they come up against former Blues manager Rafael Benitez and his Newcastle United side. Chelsea finished last season’s Premier League at St James’s Park with a humiliating 3-0 defeat which summed up all that was bad about their ineffective title defence that inevitably resulted in Antonio Conte leaving the club.
With just 2 league matches played and under a new manager’s style of football, this is a very different looking Chelsea side that is making the long trip this time around. Maurizio Sarri has already stamped his philosophy on the squad, and after 2 very entertaining victories, surely all Chelsea supporters are back in their favourite mindset – excited for the next match.
But the trip to St James Park is one to send a shiver down the spine to all Blues followers, especially those who’ve made the long trudge up all those stairs in the Leazes Stand and looked down from that dizzying height and witnessed Chelsea’s recent Premier League results there. The Blues have gained just one solitary point from our last 5 visits, and that draw required a late comeback from The Blues who were trailing 2-0 with just 12 minutes to go.
This run is a bit of a quirk within the fixture list. Whilst Chelsea have won the league twice in the last 4 seasons, Newcastle have not only not come close to challenging, but were even relegated 2 years ago down into the Championship. But despite the gulf between the 2 clubs, this is a match up that regularly sees the big spending Londoners freeze while the extremely frugal Magpies seem to be boosted by a belief that rarely makes an appearance for them, especially against the other top 6 sides.
With this in mind, Sunday’s match may not necessarily follow the pundits and bookies pre match predictions. Especially if you add in to the mix the fact that The Blues are still changing their system and tactics which will at some stage could very well go horribly wrong. There is also the likelihood that the home side will suddenly put in a quality performance yet again against the visiting Blues.
This is the 6th consecutive top flight campaign that Newcastle have not won either of their opening matches. However they may feel a little unlucky this season. They performed admirably against Tottenham and should have beaten Cardiff when down to 10 men, with Chelsea loanee Kenedy missing an injury time penalty.
The Brazilian winger is illegible to play on Sunday against his parent club and so the likes of Jacob Murphy or former Blue Christian Atsu could make the starting XI. DeAndre Yedlin is also in contention after recovering from a knee injury. But in truth it is up front where Newcastle have their biggest issue. With Joselu and on loan Salomon Rondon as strikers, will they manage to score enough goals as they attempt once again to survive in the league on a very tight transfer budget.
Maurizio Sarri has his own decisions to make with regards to his starting XI. After admitting that both Eden Hazard and Mateo Kovacic are fit enough to play around 60 minutes, the question will be whether the manager starts with either, or even both of them. However, it is just as likely that Sarri will stick with the same players who have won both of their opening Premier League matches and once again use Hazard as an impact substitute, especially if The Blues are struggling to break down a determined home defence.
Whichever way the Italian goes with his line up, surely his rejuvenated side will have too much for their hosts and The Blues can break their poor recent league form at St James’ Park. The main question will be which former Napoli manager’s tactics will win out. Can Benítez’s solid defensive set up hold out against Sarri’s quick passing attacking line up. And the Italian’s use of Eden Hazard could well be the key.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue