Premier League | Stamford Bridge | Sat 8 Feb | 3pm
After inspiring his charges to beat the world's best away from home, can Jose Mourinho do the same at Stamford Bridge against a mid-table club in turmoil?
Selling their double player of the year to Manchester United; benching Ashley Cole in favour of a right-back; recalling a Serbian for £17 million more than the club sold him for – whichever eyebrow-raising decisions the Chelsea manager makes, the response from the Blues faithful is unequivocal after Monday night’s win at Manchester City: "In Jose we trust".
- Man City 0–1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 0–0 West Ham (Prem)
- Chelsea 1–0 Stoke (FAC)
- Chelsea 3–1 Man Utd (Prem)
- Hull 0–2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-3 S'land (Prem)
- Norwich 0-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- West Ham 1-3 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-2 Man City (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-2 Cardiff (FAC)
The Etihad victory was a managerial masterclass in stifling the opposition before blitzing them on the counter-attack, with performances approaching 10/10 across the Chelsea side – notably Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic (a midfielder with such a lengthy torso, his shirt number appears to be printed too high), as well as John Terry and Gary Cahill.
Indeed, it was following December’s 3-2 loss at Stoke – just three days after a 4-3 win at Sunderland – when Mourinho shared his concerns over his side’s free-scoring but increasingly inconsistent ways. “Maybe the only way to rectify it is to not concede goals,” he shrugged. Since then, the Blues have done exactly that: the Etihad win was their ninth clean sheet in 13 games, with Cahill and Terry combining superbly in defence, as Roy Hodgson has surely noted. Come on Roy, what harm can a quick phone call do, eh?
Mourinho's men had a day to forget at Newcastle back in November, however – Yoan Gouffran and Loic Remy leading Newcastle to a 2-0 victory – but Terry and Cahill won’t be losing too much sleep ahead of Saturday’s return fixture based on current form.
Since firing five past Stoke on Boxing Day, Alan Pardew’s side have failed to score in five of their six games as they struggle to adapt to life without… no, not Joe Kinnear, but midfield orchestrator Yohan Cabaye. Facing some awkward questions following last weekend's 3-0 derby defeat on home soil, Pardew admitted: “A lot of our play went through Yohan, so maybe we now need to change our style.”
With the Magpies winning just four of the 20 league games in which Cabaye hasn’t featured since he joined the club in 2011, Pards is right to recognise this, and may now look to tweak the 4-2-3-1 formation that brought him success earlier in the campaign in favour of a more direct 4-4-2. Whichever system he deploys, the manager and supporters at St James' Park will be looking at Hatem Ben Arfa and Moussa Sissoko to step up and stop the rot.
For the Blues, Fernando Torres (knee ligament) is close to returning, although Saturday’s fixture in probably just too soon for him, while new £11m Egypt midfielder Mohamed Salah will be eager to get a run-out.
Newcastle skipper Fabricio Coloccini is likely to miss the trip to London (medial ligament damage), while Cheick Tiote has a hamstring injury. Striker Remy is still suspended after his recent scuffle at Norwich – an incident which saw Newcastle charged by the FA in midweek. The absence of the Toon’s top scorer could see new striker Luuk de Jong – on loan from Borussia Mönchengladbach – make his first start after being thrown in at the deep end against Sunderland with his side two goals down.
Player to watch: Tim Krul (Newcastle)
If the visitors are to upset the apple cart at Stamford Bridge they’ll need their Dutch keeper to be on top of his game – and the good news for Geordies is that he and his team-mates seem to be relishing their trips to London right now. Krul has barely put a foot (or hand) wrong in his last two matches in the capital – away wins at West Ham and Crystal Palace – but it was November’s 1-0 victory at Tottenham that will stay longest in the memory.
Face, knee, backside – you name the body part, Krul utilised it as he somehow kept out 14 shots on target – the most by any Premier League keeper in a single game since 2006/07. The 25-year-old stopper will take inspiration from Chelsea’s last home game, when West Ham keeper Adrian won the biggest plaudits for keeping the score goalless – incredibly Chelsea had 39 attempts on goal, with the Spaniard stopping all 9 on target.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- N'castle 2-0 Chelsea (PL, Nov 13)
- N'castle 3-2 Chelsea (PL, Feb 13)
- Chelsea 2-0 N'castle (PL, Aug 12)
- Chelsea 0-2 N'castle (PL, May 12)
- N'castle 0-3 Chelsea (PL, Dec 11)
Impeccably groomed, devilishly handsome and meticulously coiffured – there’s only one winner in the managerial style stakes, Jose, and it’s not you since you decided to leave your suit rack in Madrid. Fashion issues aside, there's plenty of respect between the two gaffers, who first went head-to-head 10 years ago when Chelsea beat West Ham 1-0 in the League Cup.
But Pards is a different beast come kick-off, and as he demonstrated to Manuel Pellegrini, you’ll get both barrels should you go near him.
Speaking after Mourinho’s leap into the Stamford Bridge crowd following a late winner against Pellegrini’s men in October, Pardew insisted: “Jose wouldn’t want to be jumping round like that near me because I’ll give him a slap. I’m bigger than him and he knows that.” Best not ruffle his silver locks before kick-off then, Jose.
Facts and figures
- Chelsea are unbeaten in 21 home games – 10 more than any other side.
- Chelsea have the best defensive record in the league this season and have conceded just 2 goals in 8 games.
- Chelsea have won 6 of their last 8 home matches against middle-third teams by at least 2 goals.
- Newcastle have failed to score in 5 of their last 6 matches.
- Newcastle have drawn just 1 of their last 13 away matches.
Best Bet: Chelsea (-2.0) Asian Handicap @ 2.35
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Considering recent form and personnel changes, this trip couldn't come at a worse time for Newcastle. 2-0.