Stamford Bridge, London
August 25, 2012; 16:30 GMT
Two games, two wins, top of the table for the first time since November, 2010. That’s Chelsea’s situation in the Premier League, as they prepare to welcome a very strong team in Newcastle United, who themselves got off to a positive start last weekend by defeating Tottenham Hotspur at home. The last time Alan Pardew led his team out to Stamford Bridge, his win won courtesy two wonderful goals from Papiss Cisse, one of them being so ridiculously brilliant that it may just have been the goal of the season.
Chelsea won their first game against Wigan easily enough, even if they were put under pressure later on by the Roberto Martinez’s team, while the victory over Reading on Wednesday was unnatural, so to speak, in nature. An uncharacteristic mistake from an otherwise reliable Petr Cech, Gary Cahill, who’s arguably Chelsea’s best aerial defender, being reduced to a mere spectator by the brilliance of Pavel Pogrebnyak, and a player grabbing the game by its proverbial scruff of the neck, mesmerizing the terraces of Stamford Bridge before inspiring Chelsea to a win. 2 games, 3 assists, 2 penalties won. Clearly, Eden Hazard has just continued in the Premier League from where he left off in France. No settling in period, no nerves, no pressure.
Newcastle, on the back of a thrilling performance from Hatem Ben Arfa, defeated Spurs at St. James’ Park after Alan Pardew was sent off for pushing the lines-man. Newcastle shocked one and all by finishing 5th last season, ahead of Chelsea. All their purchases – from Cabaye to Cisse – turned out to be unbelievably astute signings and played a key role in their stellar season in English top flight. Pardew hasn’t lost any star in the transfer window thus far, and will hope that remains the case, as he looks to carry on the good work this season.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Roberto di Matteo has everyone but Marko Marin available for selection this weekend. The German international is still three weeks away from regaining full fitness. The only other doubtful is defender David Luiz, who missed the last game because of a slight knee problem; however, he is expected to recover in time for the game.
From the team that started in midweek, there were mainly two poor performers; Branislav Ivanovic and Ramires, that is the entire right flank. As Chelsea are yet to sign an alternate right-back and aren’t likely to suddenly give Paulo Fereirra a start, there’s no option but to hope that the Serbian regains his aura of last season and concentrates on defending and passing as well rather than merely focusing on getting on the score-sheet. Ramires was also poor after returning from an minor injury. He looked disoriented on the pitch; once he was substituted, Chelsea game play considerably improved.
The back-five of is expected to remain unchanged, unless di Matteo feels he needs the pace and technical attributes of Luiz to counter Ba and Cisse in place of aerial strength and positional sense of Cahill. This is expected to be an extremely difficult encounter, so Chelsea will field their first choice double pivot of Lampard and Mikel as on the other side, the pair of Tiote and Cabaye will do everything in their capacity to disrupt the fluid movement of Chelsea’s attacking players.
Hazard, in the kind of form that he’s in, will prove to be a handful for the Newcastle defence. He is expected to be flanked by Mata on the left and Ramires on the right. There’s a chance that di Matteo may field Ryan Bertrand on the left, ahead of Cole, just to counter the threat posed by Ben Arfa and Santon on their right wing, and let Mata and Hazard interchange positions, as they have done, on the centre-right side of attack. Fernando Torres will lead the line, although Sturridge is expected to play some part in the game, especially after a decent cameo in the last game.
While Chelsea were trailing against Reading, di Matteo, about whom few had expressed their doubts regarding his tactical astuteness, made all the right moves and was quite brave in his substitutions. With Ramires underperforming, he replaced him with Oscar. Subsequently, he brought Sturridge on removing the midfield anchorman in Mikel, and deployed the English striker on the right of Hazard, shifting Oscar to deep midfield to play alongside Lampard. Once Chelsea had retaken the lead, he promptly replaced Mata with Meireles to shore up the midfield and ensure three points.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Mikel, Lampard; Mata, Hazard, Ramires; Torres
In the absence of the injured Coloccini, Pardew deployed a central defensive partnership of Perch and Taylor, and the centre-back’s availability for the Chelsea game is still not certain.
Newcastle are expected to field the same line-up otherwise which started against the Spurs. Krul in goal and a back-four of Santon, Perch, Taylor and Simpson. Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye comprised the two-man midfield, while Ben Arfa and Jonás Gutiérrez played down the right and left wing respectively, with Ba and Cisse leading the line in a 4-4-2 formation.
However, Newcastle really began to exert their influence only in the second half when Pardew moved Ben Arfa further up the pitch and Ba to the left. Gutierrez moved inwards from the left wing, while Tiote moved deeper to play as the solitary defensive shield. This shift helped the Magpies in quite a few ways. Ba, now on the left, checked Walker’s runs down his right flank, while Tiote came closer to Sigurdsson.
If Newcastle play a 4-3-3 formation with Ben Arfa starting further forward on the right, his tendency to drift inwards to the centre will leave Simpson more exposed than he usually is when Ben Arfa remains wide; not that the Frenchman plays any significant defensive role, but his presence makes the opposition full-back reluctant to bomb forward. Chelsea will have a significant advantage, with Cole and Mata/Hazard/Bertrand fully capable of exploiting the weakness down Newcastle’s right. On the other hand, a deeper Tiote will be better placed to mark Hazard, but how much that’ll help remains to be seen as Chelsea’s new third band is highly fluid, and players seldom remain in their position.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Krul; Simpson, Perch, Taylor, Santon; Tiote, Cabaye, Gutierrez; Ben Arfa; Ba, Cisse
- Chelsea have won their last 3 matches in the Premier League
- Chelsea have scored at least 2 goals in their last 3 matches in the Premier League
- Newcastle United have scored at least 2 goals in their last 3 away matches against Chelsea in all competitions
Statistics courtesy Whoscored.com.
Player (s) To Watch Out For
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
After witnessing what he’s capable of and how little time he’s taken to adapt to life in the Premier League, there can be only one Chelsea player to watch out on Saturday. Eden Hazard. The Belgian has been a revelation in England since his arrival from France, and has had a role to play in 5 of the 6 goals scored by the club in two games. His sudden change of pace and quick feet are creating a havoc for defenders who can’t help but foul him, while his partnership and neat exchanges with Juan Mata give a glimpse of things to come if he continues like he has started at Chelsea. Two games, two man of the match performances. It’ll be interesting to see what he does against a quality team such as Newcastle.
Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle United)
Just as Hazard has been the most influential player for Chelsea, Hatem Ben Arfa literally carried his team to a victory over Villas-Boas’ team last weekend. He is a special player, equally capable of playing out wide as he’s while drifting inside. Against Spurs, such was his control and artistry that he not only got two players booked but he also earned and converted the winning penalty. Chelsea will have to be very careful, if they are to prevent the Frenchman from playing a similar sort of role against them.
Chelsea 3-2 Newcastle United
Newcastle have two highly competent strikers in Ba and Cisse and a truly gifted footballer in Ben Arfa, but the thriving partnership between Hazard and Mata gives Chelsea a slight edge over the visitors. Moreover, the home team will be fully aware of what the Magpies are capable of after losing to them last season, so that should eliminate the element of surprise.
Blast From The Past