Date: Saturday, Feb 8th Venue: Stamford Bridge Kick-Off: 15.00
Newcastle face a daunting trip to Stamford Bridge to face an in-form Chelsea side who recently ended Manchester City’s flawless home record, and will be out for revenge against the team that defeated them 2-0 last November.
With Loic Remy suspended and Papiss Cissé and Yoann Gouffran struggling for fitness, Newcastle face a crisis up front and may be required to call upon Shola Ameobi to lead their line.
Cheick Tiote will also be a keenly felt absence in the Magpies’ midfield, with the Ivorian expected to miss two more games through injury. Fabricio Coloccini’s knee injury also makes him a major doubt. Gabriel Obertan may return.
Jose Mourinho has confirmed that Fernando Torres will not be risked, although could be in line for a return to the side against West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday. New signing Mohamed Salah is likely to be involved in some capacity, having remained on the bench during the Blues’ 1-0 victory against Manchester City last week.
Should Yoann Gouffran and Papiss Cisse be unable to prove their fitness, Newcastle will be hoping Shola Ameobi is able to break a Premier League barren spell stretching back to December 2012.
If Gouffran is unable to make it, both players who scored for the Magpies in their 2-0 victory over Chelsea in November (alongside Loic Remy) will be missing. Yohan Cabaye, who assisted Gouffran’s goal in that game, was sold to Paris St-Germain for £19m in the January transfer window.
Despite going into the match having only won (and scored) in one of their last six matches, Newcastle will take comfort from the fact that they have defeated Chelsea in three of their last four encounters and have only lost two of their last seven. Their recent away record is also strong, having won three and drawn one of their past five fixtures outside St. James’ Park.
Chelsea come into the game in outstanding form, unbeaten in their last eight Premier League encounters. While Jose Mourinho has never beaten Newcastle at St. James’ Park, he has triumphed in every encounter at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea: (4-2-3-1) Petr Cech; Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta; Nemanja Matic, Ramires; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Eto’o.
Newcastle: (4-3-2-1) Tim Krul; Mathieu Debuchy, Steven Taylor, Mike Williamson, Davide Santon; Vurnon Anita, Sylvain Marveaux, Moussa Sissoko; Hatem Ben-Arfa, Sammy Ameobi; Shola Ameobi.
On paper, it’s hard to see Newcastle coming away from Stamford Bridge with so much as a goal, let alone a point. The Magpies recently sold their best player to Paris St-Germain and many of those expected to plug the gap are either suspended, ruled out or struggling for fitness.
The Blues, on the other hand, come off what is arguably the result of the season and one of manager Jose Mourinho’s most noteworthy tactical achievements: an away victory with a clean sheet against the free-scoring Manchester City. A settled back four marshalled by Gary Cahill and John Terry is also brimming with confidence and looking impregnable. Further upfield, Eden Hazard has been in scintillating form and will be looking to score his tenth Premier League goal of the season.
That said, there are a number of factors hinting that three points may not be such a cast-iron guarantee for the Blues after all.
Mourinho may have triumphed against Manchester City, but his decision to field two holding midfielders against a largely impotent West Ham in the previous game was a contributing factor to his team dropping points against the league’s bottom club.
Chelsea’s attacking options tend to succeed through hard graft rather than creativity, struggling against clubs who close up shop. Man City played into Mourinho’s hands by attacking, thereby giving Willian and Hazard plenty of room to run into.
With their striking options limited, Newcastle are unlikely to adopt such a cavalier approach.
The January departures of Juan Mata and Kevin De Bruyne mean Chelsea lack the sort of player who can thread a ball through a defence in lock-down, leaving them struggling for a Plan B should Willian, Oscar or Hazard be denied the space they need. Chelsea may have the league’s tightest defence, but have also scored the fewest goals of any club in the top four. Mohamed Salah, however, could prove an important wildcard from the bench.
A Chelsea victory remains the most likely result, although the annihilation that many might be expecting is unlikely to come to pass. Much could depend on whom Mourinho decides to field behind his front four: Matic and Ramires seem the most likely choices, but Frank Lampard has scored or assisted in thirteen of his twenty-seven games against the Magpies and greatly increased his side’s forward momentum when he came on against the Hammers.
Mourinho has won 1-0 in 19% of his league matches, a percentage likely to increase tomorrow.
Prediction: 1-0 to Chelsea
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This article was first posted on February 7, 2014