I’m sure I speak for most in saying I’m currently devoid of any real hope or excitement as a Newcastle fan right now – and I’m not expecting that feeling to change ahead of what could be a very long afternoon at Chelsea.
As Rafa said in his presser, it’s time to forget about ‘takeovers’ and the transfer window (with us appearing to be no closer to any new signing or new owners 10 days into January), however matters on the pitch are just as worrying right now.
Our threadbare squad is now being seriously tested, with the absence of Shelvey (injury), Diame (injury) and Ki (international duty) meaning we have just ONE senior midfielder fit for tomorrow’s game – and that’s an out of sorts Isaac Hayden who wants out!
Not only that, we don’t have a natural left-back fit either, with Paul Dummett also ruled out. We know we lack quality, but the fact Benitez is now forced to put square pegs in round holes just sums up Ashley’s neglect at NUFC.
Chelsea have failed to score in their last two league games at home – losing 0-1 to Leicester and drawing 0-0 with Southampton more recently – but they’ve also conceded just ONE goal in their last 8 home games; a stat that hardly fills me with confidence given how toothless we’ve been in attack of late.
That said, their confidence levels are fragile at present so you just never know – but it’ll have to be a Benitez masterclass if we’re to get anything.
Here’s the team I’d like to see, followed by the side I expect Rafa to go with:
With Shelvey out, Ki away at the Asian Cup and Diame a ‘major doubt’, we have just ONE senior central midfielder available – and that’s Isaac Hayden; a player who doesn’t even want to be here.
If Diame does miss out then Longstaff will almost certainly start – unless Rafa think the ball playing Fabian Schar could play in a holding midfield role.
With Dummett out I expect Ritchie to come in as a left-wing back (although he was murdered the last time he played in this role at Chelsea), while Atsu and Perez look likely to play either side of Rondon given Kenedy is ineligible.
Predicted NUFC XI – (5-2-2-1) – Dubravka– Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Fernandez, Ritchie – Longstaff, Hayden – Perez, Atsu – Rondon.
Aside from the obvious Eden Hazard, here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in the Chelsea squad:
Ngolo Kante – He’s been given real license to get forward under Sarri, playing in a more advanced role and often finding himself in the box and joining attacks. I watched their League Cup defeat to Spurs a few days ago and he could’ve been mistaken as their striker as times!
Marcus Alonso – The tall Spaniard bombs forward from ‘left-back’ and will be one of Chelsea’s biggest goal threats. Yedlin will have his hands full with Hazard, but marking him so closely could leave space for Alonso to sneak in. Whoever is playing down the right of our midfield will need to help out.
David Luiz – He’s now a regular in Sarri’s side and a player capable of doing something sensational one minute and stupid just moments later. A talented footballer but someone who always has an error in him. Rondon could cause him problems.
Callum Hudson-Odoi – The 18-year old winger looks an incredible talent; so much so that Bayern Munich are bidding £35m to sign him. He may not start, but whoever is filling in at left-back is in for a tough night if he does. He’s direct, incredibly quick and has bundles of confidence and quality for a player of his age.
Predicted Chelsea XI – (4-1-2-3) – Kepa – Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Alonso – Jorginho – Kante, Barkley – Willian, Morata, Hazard.
Shelvey and Dummett have been ruled out, with Diame rated a ‘major doubt’ – meaning Longstaff could be forced to play in midfield.
Kenedy is ineligible to play against his parent club and both Ki and Muto are away at the Asian Cup.
Morata is a doubt for Chelsea, while Loftus-Cheek – a player Benitez has tried to sign in the past – has been ruled out.
It’s hard to see how we go about getting anything from this one. Chelsea may have scored just ONE goal in their last three home league games (and also blanked vs Spurs in midweek), but they’ve conceded just ONCE in their last 8 games at Stamford Bridge.
If we keep Hazard quiet and force a rare defensive lapse at the other end then we may be able to get a point, but I’m really struggling here given our injury issues.
We’re often much better on the road and a tough nut to crack away from St James’, but I still see Chelsea having too much for us here.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Newcastle
Howay the lads!