The FourFourTwo Preview: Newcastle vs Chelsea
The first test of the leaders’ mettle without Matic.
- Burnley 1-1 Newcastle (Prem)
- West Ham 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-0 QPR (Prem)
- WBA 0-2 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-0 Liverpool (Prem)
- Chelsea 3-0 Spurs (Prem)
- S’land 0-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Schalke 0-5 Chelsea (CL)
- Chelsea 2-0 WBA (Prem)
- Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea (Prem)
Top dogs Chelsea have already proved they can cope without top scorer Diego Costa this season, winning away at Crystal Palace when he was injured and comfortably dispatching Spurs on Wednesday night while he served a suspension.
So the next test for Jose Mourinho’s seemingly unstoppable machine is: can they manage without midfield linchpin Nemanja Matic? The former Benfica man has featured in every game for the Londoners in 2014/15, forming a formidable partnership alongside Cesc Fabregas with the Serbian mopping up while the Spaniard routinely takes teams to the cleaners. The midweek win over Spurs equalled a club record of 23 games unbeaten, but after a leggy stalemate against Sunderland last weekend, another trek to the North East to take on Newcastle probably wouldn’t have been high on the wish list.
And while Jose is often credited with masterminding results away from home against the big hitters, he has tended to find trips to St James’ Park a tad prickly. In seven visits to Tyneside as Chelsea boss, once last season and six in his first spell, he has yet to win a league game; his two successes both coming in the League Cup.
Chelsea have only managed to score four goals in those seven clashes, too, drawing a blank in four of them, with last season’s 2-0 reverse seeing now Blues striker Loic Remy netting a late second after Yoan Gouffran had broken the deadlock.
A pair of Moussa Sissoko goals helped the Toon inflict a 3-2 defeat on Chelsea the season before last, and Alan Pardew will be glad to have the Frenchman back from suspension after his sending-off at West Ham.
The Magpies responded from defeat at Upton Park by bagging a point at Burnley in midweek, ensuring spirits remain high after their six wins on the spin.
Key to the comeback was substitute Remy Cabella, the Frenchman’s cameo earning plaudits from Pardew for “taking the game by the scruff of the neck with his technical ability. He was terrific.”
Games against Arsenal, Spurs, Sunderland and Manchester United follow the visit of the unbeaten leaders, but the Toon can take heart from seeing their local rivals become the first team to stop Chelsea scoring this season a week ago. Newcastle have won each of their last three home games 1-0.
Tim Krul, Ryan Taylor, Gabriel Obertan, Davide Santon and Siem de Jong aren’t expected to see any action before the new year, but the hosts will hope to have captain Fabricio Coloccini back from calf trouble and Rolando Aarons from a hamstring injury. Sissoko and Jack Colback return from bans.
Matic serves his suspension for accruing five yellow cards, but Costa is available again having served his ban. Gary Cahill was forced off at half-time in midweek after a clash of heads but should be OK.
Player to watch: Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)
Without his midfield partner in crime Matic alongside him this weekend, Chelsea’s assist king may have to slightly temper his attacking intent and leave it to Messrs Hazard, Oscar and Willian further ahead of him.
John Obi Mikel will likely be handed his first league start of the season – his only full 90 minutes in 2014/15 to date coming against Bolton in the League Cup – to play the holding role, and Cesc will have to work diligently both with and without the ball.
Even though he only played 76 minutes before being withdrawn with victory already secured, Fabregas still ended up being Chelsea’s best passer (48/55), top tackler (5/8) and most proficient ball recoverer (12).
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Chelsea 3-0 N’castle (PL, Feb 14)
- 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)
With Wednesday’s win over Spurs the first of eight games Chelsea will play in December, Mourinho has admitted he will have to start rotating his team to keep everyone fresh, but is satisfied with the strength in depth of his squad. “December is a difficult month and it’s almost impossible for players to play every game this month – certainly later in the month I have to change some players," he said. "Of course, Costa is already rested and now Matic is suspended so he will rest.” Newcastle’s 2-0 win over Chelsea at St James’ Park in November 2013 is Pardew’s only Premier League victory over Mourinho, losing five times.
Facts and figures
- Eden Hazard has scored 4 goals in 3 Premier League appearances against Newcastle – more than against any other side.
- The Magpies are the only team yet to score in the opening 30 minutes of their league matches this season. Their earliest goal this season has come in the 37th minute.
- If Chelsea avoid defeat in this game they will only be the fourth team to go unbeaten in their opening 15+ games in a Premier League season (after Arsenal twice, Man United and Man City).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Another awkward trip to Tyneside, but a well-rested Costa ekes out a 1-0 away win.
Back 0-1 at 11/2 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication