Chelsea seek respite on the road at Newcastle

Chelsea's trip to Newcastle United offers manager Andre Villas-Boas respite from the anxious atmosphere of Stamford Bridge but a game against confident opponents grieving for a former player could hurt his December revival plan.

Having lost three of their last four home games, Chelsea travel to the north-east of England on Saturday desperate to make up ground on the Manchester front-runners but they face a side who have lost just one league game this season.

"For our Premier League to be alive we need to make the most of the December games," said Villas-Boas, whose fifth-placed team trail leaders Manchester City by 10 points before what will be an emotionally charged game against fourth-placed Newcastle.

There will be a tribute before kick-off at St James' Park for former Newcastle midfielder Gary Speed whose death at the age of 42 sent shockwaves through the sport after the Wales manager was found hanged at his home on Sunday.

Fans will hold up black and white cards depicting the number 11, the shirt Speed wore at the club between 1998 and 2004, while singing a Welsh hymn before a minute's applause.

When the action gets underway on the pitch, Chelsea look poised to drop record signing Fernando Torres to the bench once again after the struggling striker started Tuesday's home League Cup defeat by Liverpool.

"It takes time and Fernando faces a tough time. He must compete because at the moment Didier Drogba is showing good signs," local media quoted Villas-Boas as saying.


Newcastle, meanwhile, are flying after a 1-1 draw at champions Manchester United last weekend helped them forget a first defeat of the season at Manchester City.

"We've set up ourselves up for Chelsea," manager Alan Pardew told the Newcastle Chronicle newspaper. "We have one of the big clubs coming to us and they will be fearing coming to us in front of 52,000 Geordies."

While Chelsea seek to play catch-up, unbeaten Man City will hope to at least maintain the five-point lead they have on second-placed United when they host Norwich City on Saturday.

Manager Roberto Mancini could opt to rest players against the promoted club for what looks like a straightforward game for a side who have won 11 of 13 league matches ahead of Wednesday's key Champions League clash at home to Bayern Munich.

Neighbours United, whose second string were beaten by Crystal Palace in Wednesday's League Cup quarter-finals, will also have half an eye on next week's decisive final European group game at FC Basel when they travel to Aston Villa.

By the time they kick off, United could have dropped to third if Tottenham Hotspur, two points behind them, beat Bolton Wanderers at White Hart Lane.

Spurs' north London rivals Arsenal, who unlike City, United and Chelsea have secured their Champions League last-16 place, will be looking to build on their improved league form when they travel to struggling Wigan Athletic.

Arsene Wenger's side are seventh with 23 points, level with sixth-placed Liverpool who travel to Fulham on Monday.