By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Stamford Bridge/December 2, 2017
The 1-0 score line against Swansea City on Wednesday night didn’t actually paint the picture of our absolute dominance of the game, but on a night when all of our closest rivals won it doesn’t matter how we do it at the end as long as we managed to eventually. If that’s the yard stick for what’s to come then the visit of Newcastle United to Stamford Bridge on Saturday lunch time poses a different kind of problem for Antonio Conte and his team, one I hope the team will be able to withstand. A Chelsea win will definitely add an extra layer of pressure on both Manchester United and Arsenal going into their match later Saturday evening. Manchester City are currently secured in their position at the top of the pile going into the hectic December fixtures where anything is possible and as some of the players stated last week we have to keep winning our games to be able to capitalize if and when the Citizens falters.
Chelsea vs Newcastle United is one of the oldest fixtures on our calendar this season, the first match between the pair coming way back in 1907 in a match won by the Geordies thanks to a solitary scored by Ronald Orr in the old Division One. Chelsea and Newcastle United have met a combined 160 times with the Chelsea score card reading (W69 D39 L52). The first match between this pair in the Premier League came in the very first Premier League season in 1992 with Chelsea running out 1-0 winners thanks to an early Mark Stein goal having also defeated Newcastle United two months prior in the League Cup. Chelsea will be looking for their 70th win against Newcastle United in all competitions when we take to the pitch against the North East club on Saturday afternoon and if the result the last time the Geordies paid a visit to SW6 is anything to go by then it may be a very long, unhappy journey back home, with Chelsea running out 5-1 winners on that occasion. Newcastle United has won just one of their last five matches at Stamford Bridge (L4) in a match that was something of a dead rubber in May 2012 as we prepared for our Champions’ League final match against Bayern Munich. That match was also the last of only two times we have failed to score against Newcastle at home in their last ten visits (W7 L1 D2).
Cesar Azpilicueta did not start a Premier League match for the first time since December 2015 on Wednesday night as Antonio Conte rang in changes to keep his team fresh for the hectic December fixtures. Eden Hazard also had to settle for a place on the substitutes’ bench with the coach opting to start with a front three of Willian, Morata and Pedro as he reverted to the 3-4-3 formation. With David Luiz injured and Azpilicueta on the bench, Antonio Rudiger came back into the starting line-up to form a back three with Andreas Christensen and captain Gary Cahill, and what an inclusion that proved at the end with the German international getting the only goal of the game. Victor Moses also made his long-awaited return to first team action with a late cameo which would be a welcome development for Conte. With Eden Hazard likely to return to the starting XI, Antonio Conte is likely to start this game as we finished the Swansea game with a 3-5-2 formation with Tiemoue Bakayoko joining Fabregas and Kante in central midfield having been an unused substitute during Wednesday night’s game. On the basis of Moses’ contribution to the game when he came on Wednesday night I think he can use one or two more cameos before he can be back to his destructive best and so Conte might be forced to continue with his compatriot Davide Zappacosta in the right wing back position or maybe play Azpilicueta there should Antonio Rudiger retain his place, which wouldn’t come as a surprise. Willian has been knocking on the door with his recent performances but unless the coach lines up differently from the 3-5-2 formation then he’s likely to return to the bench with Hazard partner Morata in attack. Pedro has certainly been better than he was on Wednesday night and he’s also likely to settle for a place on the substitutes’ bench come Saturday afternoon barring any injuries to our front two.
Courtois; Rudiger, Christensen, Cahill; Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Kante, Bakayoko, Alonso; Hazard, Morata.
Last Five Matches: WDWWW
Injuries: Michy Batshuayi (Ankle) –Doubt; David Luiz (Muscle) –Out.
Newcastle United fought back from two goals down to force a draw against West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday night to stop a dismal run of four successive losses and that would have pleased their manager Rafa Benitez going into this game. Rafa Benitez will be looking to make an impression when he returns to Stamford Bridge for the first time since he led us to the Europa League title and a third place finish in the league when he took over from Robbie Di Matteo at the tail end of 2013. Although he’s known for his rotation policy, Benitez is likely to keep the same team that fought so valiantly for a draw at the Hawthorns in midweek. Rob Elliot may come in for Karl Darlow in goal behind a back four of DeAndre Yedlin, Ciaran Clark, Florian Lejuene and Chancel Mbemba but Javi Manquillo is also an option at left back. On Tuesday night, Isaac Hayden partnered Mikel Merino as the midfield anchor in Benitez’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation but both Mo Diame and Jonjo Shelvey are also candidates for that position depending on the coach’s plan for the game. The trio of Jacob Murphy, Ayoze Perez and the very dangerous, especially from set plays, Matt Ritchie playing behind lone striker Joselu. The power of Aleksandar Mitrovic and the pace of Dwight Gayle are options for Benitez to explore when choosing the one, or two, to lead the line.
Elliot; Yedlin, Clark, Lejeune, Javi Manquillo; Shelvey, Merino; Ritchie, Perez, Murphy; Gayle.
Last 5 matches: DLLLL
Injuries: Jermaine Lascelles (Ankle) –Out; Christian Atsu (Thigh) –Out; Paul Dummett (Hamstring) –Out.
Alvaro Morata vs. Florian Lejeune
Alvaro Morata will have to intensify the physical side of his game if he’s to compete favourably with defenders in the Premier League. But he’s likely to bypass the physical element on Saturday because Florian Lejeune, who only arrived the Premier League in the summer, is not the most physical of defenders.
Davide Zappacosta vs. Matt Ritchie
If Zappacosta gets Conte’s nod to start at right wing back then he’s likely to have a pretty busy afternoon trying to stop the energetic and dangerous Matt Ritchie who’s got a wicked cross in him if afforded the space and time on the ball. Zappacosta must be on red alert at every time to stand a chance.
Andreas Christensen vs. Dwight Gayle
With David Luiz likely to have an extended run on the side line Christensen will most certainly make the CB position his own for a long time but on Saturday he will have to contend with a pretty tricky customer in Dwight Gayle, who likes to get the better of opposing defenders with his intelligent movement in and around the box. I’m sure Andreas Christensen will be equal to whatever Gayle might throw at him.
There’s of course the small matter of the last Champions’ League group stage fixture against Atletico Madrid hot on the heels of this fixture and although qualification is already assured topping the group is not without its own benefits and so Conte may want to finish off Newcastle as early as possible to afford his players some rest before Atletico Madrid comes to town
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Bleacher Report
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