Four defeats on the spin means we’re coming into this one in danger of losing our place in the top 10, but whatever happen, happens as far I am concerned – it’s mission accomplished.
After a long, hard season, I for one am so relieved to find us coming into this game knowing we’ll be a Premier League side next season.
It’ll be a tough old day for West Brom, Stoke and (almost certainly) Swansea fans, so we should be celebrating Benitez and the boy’s efforts and achievement no matter what the result. Not forgetting the fact this is a big chance to show Benitez just how much we love him.
I couldn’t bare the thought of it, but this may just be the last time we see him at St James’ Park if talks with Mike Ashley crash and burn. Let’s remind Rafa just how much we love him.
Now to the game itself. It’s a tough one to call really. Chelsea’s hopes of finishing in the top 4 have all but ended after their midweek draw with Huddersfield, but they’ll be going all out for three points, with their only hope being if they win and Liverpool lose at home to Brighton. It’s unlikely, but they know only a win will do – so I expect them to go for it.
On the flip side, the reality is that the damage has already been done and they may be a little deflated. It’s almost certain to be Conte’s last game and, for the vast majority of Chelsea’s squad, it’s the last game they’ll be playing before the World Cup.
Let’s hope they’re sulking and protecting themselves ahead of next month’s World Cup.
For us, there were signs that we’ve finally woke up at Wembley on Wednesday night, but another defeat meant our place in the top 10 is under serious threat.
The likes of Palace (West Brom H) and Bournemouth (Burnley A) have winnable games and could overtake us if we lost and they got a result. Watford (41) and Brighton (40) face tough trips to Man Utd and Liverpool, so they look unlikely to overtake us, but West Ham could yet overtake us if we lost and they beat Allardyce’s Everton.
As I said at the start of the piece, I won’t be too deflated even if we do lose and finish quite a few places further down the league, but our league finish could help or hinder Benitez’s budget, with every position being worth £2m.
The difference between 10th and 15th (where we *could* end up finishing if ALL results went against us) is £10m – and that’s a sizeable amount. It would pay to sign Dubravka permanently and contribute towards an overhaul of our U-23’s or some much needed training ground improvements.
Here’s the team I’d like to see, followed by the side I expect Rafa to go with:
As I said last week, Gayle just looks so unlikely to score at the moment and, despite his efforts, is letting us down in front of goal. Perez, however, has come alive in the six yard box over the past few weeks so I’d be incline to play him as a bit of a false number 9, putting Merino in behind him to give him a chance to shine and show us what he’s capable of. We’ll also miss Kenedy’s quality on the ball so he could be a welcome return to the side.
I don’t see him getting in ahead of Diame and Shelvey (and think it’s best he doesn’t either given how well they played at Wembley), but I’d love to see him back in the side – especially given all the talk surrounding his future over the past few months.
Predicted NUFC XI – (4-2-3-1) – Dubravka– Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett – Diame, Shelvey – Ritchie, Perez, Murphy – Gayle.
Aside from the obvious (Eden Hazard), here’s a few players I’ll have my eye on:
Marcus Alonso – A left wing-back but you’d honestly think he was a left sided forward the amount of times he gets into good areas in and around the box. Deadly from free-kicks too. One Ritchie and Yedlin will have to keep a close eye on.
Olivier Giroud – A very clever target man who’s not only a big threat from crosses into the box but also very good with his feet. Brilliant with his back to goal and dangerous in the air.
Willian – Top class player. Electric pace, skill and superb quality on the ball. Promises to give Dummett a tough test if he starts.
Predicted Chelsea XI – (3-4-2-1) – Courtois – Azpilicueta, Cahill, Rudiger – Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso – Willian, Hazard – Giroud.
For an inside look into tonight’s opponents, take a look at the latest edition of the ‘Opposition Opinion’. Another good insight into this weekend’s opponents.
Newcastle – 10th (41 pts) – Last 5 in the league – Won: 1 / Drawn: 0 / Lost: 4
Chelsea – 5th (70 pts) – Last 5 in the league – Won: 4 / Drawn: 1 / Lost: 0
Kenedy ineligible against his parent club, Atsu and Clark ruled out through injury and Slimani suspended (and back in Leicester).
Thibaut Courtois is available after recovering from a minor back injury, so should come in for ex-NUFC target WIlly Caballero.
I see this being quite an open game. I expect Chelsea to come at us in search of the win they need to keep their Champions League hopes alive, but Benitez will no doubt have us set up to hit them on the counter if they over commit.
One worry is we’ll be without Kenedy – and I can’t say I have much faith in his expected replacement Jacob Murphy.
That being said, I’m not sure what Chelsea team we’ll see turn up to this one, but am quite certain they’ll have an attacking set up and hope it may leave them vulnerable at the back.
With this in mind, I’ll go for a scoring draw – a result which may or may not be enough to keep us in the top 10.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-2 Chelsea
Howay the lads!