This weekend the Mighty Magpies are at home taking on Russian Oligarch backed Chelsea as the battle for 4th place hots up.
Our boys should not go into this game fearing an ageing Chelsea side that once brushed aside all that stood in their way. Granted they still have astounding quality amongst their ranks, but Newcastle are a compact, well drilled unit these days with pace and flair to match. We are not ahead of them in this years league standings by fluke. Put simply, this is a game we can win.
This game will begin with a sombre mood following the untimely death of Toon Legend Gary Speed and we can expect emotional scenes and a fitting tribute prior to kick off, hopefully followed by an excellent driven Toon performance in Speedo’s honour. He played his part in three home league wins against the Blues, scoring in a 3-1 win on 2nd May 1998. Speed’s passing has hit the footballing community hard and the man will be missed and I’m sure the fans will give him a great ovation as they pay their respects. Rest In Peace.
Sylvain Marveaux (groin) is out until after the New Year. Mike Williamson is claiming to be on course to make a first-team return for the Christmas fixture list, however I have my doubts over whether he will be fit enough and whether he’ll get a look in during such a crucial period of games before we face Liverppol away and Manchester United at home in the New Year.
Leon Best (groin) should be included in the squad whilst there remains a bit of confusion surrounding Cheik Tiote’s knee injury, which has now turned into a groin injury and he misses out. Hopefully it just a minor setback and he will be available for Norwich as he sits out against the team strongly tipped to have an agreement in place to sign our midfield battler in January for somewhere in the region of £22m. Following Jonas Gutierrez’ dismissal for two yellow cards at Old Trafford, he will be serving an automatic one game ban. Steve Harper is back from his loan spell with Brighton and fights Rob Elliot for a place on the bench.
Squad From: Tim Krul, Steve Harper, Rob Elliot, Ryan Taylor, Shane Ferguson, Davide Santon, James Perch, Fabricio Coloccini, Steven Taylor, Danny Simpson, Sammy Ameobi, Danny Guthrie, Alan Smith, Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Dan Gosling, Gabriel Obertan, Haris Vukic, Shola Ameobi, Peter Lovenkrands, Leon Best, Demba Ba.
Backup goalkeeper Hilario is touch and go as he battles to overcome the effects of man flu. Michael Essien (ACL) will not feature for the rest of 2011. Captain John Terry will play after ensuring his booking against Wolves resulted in a ban for the midweek Cup game against Liverpool as opposed to us. Josh McEachran picked up an ankle injury in the midweek loss to Liverpool and is doubtful.
Squad From: Petr Cech, Hilario, Ross Turnbull, Ashley Cole, Jose Bosingwa, John Terry, Alex, David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic, Juan Mata, Florent Malouda, Frank Lampard, Ramirez, John Obi Mikel, Raul Meireles, Oriol Romeu, Josh McEachran, Fernando Torres, Dider Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Romelu Lukaku, Daniel Sturridge, Solomon Kalou.
Shamrock’s top 10 really interesting facts and stats:
1 – The Toon have hosted Chelsea in the league 66 times, winning 34 and drawing 17 times.
2 – More recently, home ties have been fairly even. With Newcastle and Chelsea each winning 3 from the last 10 league fixtures.
3 – Chelsea’s increasing age is seeing them get a bit slow and dirty. They are this season’s most booked side with 32 yellow cards and three straight reds. John Terry and Ashley Cole each have five bookings already, only one behind the league’s unfairest player – Blackburn’s Steven Nzonzi. Newcastle have a total of 26 cards.
4 – Chelsea are very good at keeping the ball, with more successful passes (5960) than anybody. We only have 3413. Not only that, but Chelsea have had more shots on target (82) than us (54) and more goals with 28 to our 19.
5 – That said, we have only conceded 12 to their 17. As a result of defensive sturdiness, we have lost only one league match this season as opposed to Chelsea’s four resulting in 26 points for us against Chelsea’s 25 – both having played 13 times.
6 – The Magpies have won each of the seven league games they have scored first in this season.
7 – Chelsea Captain John Terry is expected to make his 500th start for the club he has represented since he was a trainee.
8 – Shola Ameobi is still searching for his 50th league goal, whilst Demba Ba will be hoping to make it 17 goals in 25 Premier League appearances. If Ryan Taylor finds the back of the Chelsea net, it will be his 10th in our colours.
9 – Newcastle first hosted Chelsea in a league match on September 14th 1907 at St James’ Park in the Football League Division 1. The result was 1-0 to the the Magpies in front of a crowd of 35,000. Our line up was Lawrence, McCracken, McCombie, Gardner, Speedie, McWilliam, Veitch, Howie, Appleyard, Gosnell and Orr – the latter providing the match winner.
10 – Ronald Orr was born in Scotland in 1880. He played for Newcastle for seven years, winning two league titles (1905 and 1907) as well as representing us in the FA Cup Final of 1906 – a game we would lose. He eventually moved on to play for Liverpool in a transfer worth a staggering £350! He was one of our all time greats, scoring 70 goals in 180 appearances.
Team selection and tactical thoughts:
Before we discuss tactics, I want to look a little more closely at the Blues midfield and lack of defensive bite.
So Cheik Tiote is being linked with a January move to Chelsea and some sources are even going as far as claiming a £22m deal has been done on the quiet. This speculation has come about partly because the press love to stir it up about Newcastle United, but also partly because Chelsea are lacking genuine bite in midfield and Tiote would fit the bill perfectly. Looking at the Blues squad, their defensive frailties instantly spring to mind.
In the absence of their box-to-box goliath Michael Essien, Raul Meireles is the closest thing Chelsea have to a defensive midfielder. He can handle the role effectively enough, but is more of an attack minded general midfielder whose versatility means he does not mind trying his hand out on the right. He is a fine passer of the ball and an excellent finisher, who can do a bit of everything but I would not class him as the most committed or accomplished of defensive players. If you put him in the defensive ‘hole’, he will stray off more often than Tiger Woods and Jude Law put together.
Mikel John Obi meanwhile has quite frankly been destroyed by the West London club. A few years back he played in the World Youth Cup and made huge waves across the globe with his fast feet and attacking flare. Manchester United scrambled for his signature and thought they had it until Chelsea and their dodgy Russian mobsters did a bit of underhand dealing to pull off a ‘coup’ and avoid Court action by paying United off. Unfortunately for Chelski, they never really knew how to develop young attacking talent and instead tried to make him a defensive midfielder. They failed miserably and he now represents some kind of half boy, half Mourinho-esque Rottweiler that in fact is as scary looking and effective at keeping guard as that lost looking puppy from the Andrex ads.
Florent Malouda and JuanMata are attacking wingers, Frank Lampard will not hold himself in his own half for long and Ramires is pretty much the same. What we can learn from this, is that Chelsea know they cannot afford to sit back and let the attacks happen. They will look to play in our half and keep the pressure on.
In order to do this, Chelsea will likely play with a high defensive line. Cole on the left, Ivanovic or Bosingwa on the right and Terry in the middle alongside David Luiz. Luiz is exceptional on the ball, but when put under pressure he is prone to the odd crazy rash tackle. Putting pressure on him is where we will find the breakthough in the middle. Why they don’t play Luiz in the holding midfielder role I don’t know…
They will probably set out with some form of a 4-3-3, utilising a holding midfielder (Meireles or Mikel) with Lampard and Ramires in the centre. Mata will be an advanced wide left winger, given licence to link up with the forwards (Torres or Drogba) whilst Sturridge will likely start as a wide right forward come winger. This allows them fluidity up front, making it difficult for our defenders to track them, especially when you consider Lampard and Ramirez will not hesitate to take advantage of any stray balls around the edge of the box.
Naturally, this means Torres can sit on the shoulder of our central defenders whilst Lampard/Mata/Sturridge cause havoc behind him and he can turn on the pace in an instant to get himself through for a one on one situation – the Blues are slowly realising this is how he plays best and at £50m, they need to start getting the best out of him.
We will need a midfield anchor to help combat this, but as we normally do this anyway I won’t dwell on it. We are comfortable with that. Where Chelsea let themselves down is their reluctance to be disciplined as a team defensively. John Terry does an exceptional job organising those around and in front of him, but they don’t make it easy for him and their manager has to take responsibility for this. He knowingly sacrifices defensive stability in the pursuit of attacking prowess, allowing his full backs to get forward often and their ‘anchor’ to swap with either Lampard or Ramires during passing passages of play. This means that for a good third of their time in possession they have a midfielder in the holding role that cannot tackle and their full backs so advanced that a quick counter and change of pace from Obertan or Ben Arfa and they are left for dead.
I’m not suggesting we should be sitting back and looking to counter as a game plan for a moment. Our boys have enough about them to approach this game in the same manner as any other game. Yes Chelsea are dangerous moving forward, but we are good defensively and Sammy Ameobi (who I expect to play on the left as a straight swap for the banned Gutierrez), Ben Arfa and Obertan are all looking sharper and more dangerous with every game they play. With the likes of Yohan Cabaye sitting back spraying the ball around alongside a rejuvenated Danny Guthrie I can see our own attacking midfielders causing real problems sneaking in behind committed and advanced Chelsea full backs and using Ba’s harassing and physical approach to unsettle Terry and his central partner, much in the same way Shane Long did when they played West Brom.
Essentially it’s a case of defending in numbers when Chelsea get on the ball in our half, but always ensuring the likes of Obertan or Ben Arfa are available in an advanced position to use as an outlet for a quick counter. However when we are on the ball we should be looking to relentlessly attack and I am certain we will find a way through.
This is set for an entertaining game with plenty of heart in mouth moments, which I believe comes down to desire. Our boys have looked hungrier than Chelsea all season on all fronts and there is no reason they cannot claim all three points for this one.
Taking the reigns for this one is Wirral based Mike Dean. He has been taking charge of games for almost 30 years and has been a Select Group Referee since 2000. He has also been a Fourth Official in a FA Cup Final and was added to the FIFA list in 2003. Dean has also directly taken charge of the FA Cup Final as well as the Championship Playoff Final and more recently – the Carling Cup Final. He has been involved in European football, domestically and Internationally. This bloke is vastly experienced. His biggest fan is most definitely not Alex Ferguson after Man Utd lost at home to Chelsea in April last year, or the Cardiff fan who split his head open during a coin throwing incident in 2009.
He has been in charge at St James’ Park 14 times. We have won nine and drawn three of those including a 5-0 win over West Ham in January this year, so his appointment is certainly not a bad omen for us! As far as I can tell, this is the first time he has ever officiated a game between Chelsea and ourselves.
This is a game our current side can win. Chelsea are not as impressive or consistent as they used to be and questions are being asked about their young manager Andre Villas-Boas despite him barely having gotten his suitcase unpacked!
Chelsea played on Tuesday in a Carling Cup loss to Liverpool, heaping more pressure on their boss and no doubt hitting morale a little bit harder. However, it was largely a Reserves team they put out with only Torres, Lampard, Bosingwa and David Luiz likely to play a full match twice inside a week. As a result, Chelsea cannot claim to have tired legs going into this fixture. This should come down to whoever wants it more and I believe our group of players are hungrier, with much more to prove. Add the pure emotion, desire and fight our lads should display in memory of the late great and consummate professional, Gary Speed and I believe we can pull this off. 3-2 to the Toon.
Venue: St. James’ Park
Kick Off: 12:45 Saturday 3rd December 2011
Referee: Mike Dean