In my last Premier League preview I wrote about the importance of coming out of games against Wolves and Rochdale with two good results to get us back on track after a costly Christmas period.
With a hard fought point at Wolves and a convincing FA Cup win over Rochdale on Tuesday, we did exactly that.
Those results have helped steady the ship at St James’ Park, while two more goals for Almiron, a big confidence booster for Joelinton and the return of a few key players from injury also give us reason to be hopeful again heading into this one.
Chelsea are a capable young side and have the ability to beat us comfortably if we’re not at it, however.
That said, they can be got at defensively so we have to believe we can go out and beat them – not just settle for another hard fought draw.
At the back, Martin Dubravka will return after a rare run out for Darlow in midweek, but Bruce finally has a few options to play with at centre-back.
Lascelles is back, but I don’t see the skipper being thrown straight back in, with him puffing after 55 minutes against Rochdale on Tuesday.
I expect Schar to come straight back in given how important his ball playing skills are at home, but think Lejeune may be left out for this one after not only playing the full 90 in midweek but struggling badly in his last few outings at St James’ Park.
With that in mind and Paul Dummett injured, I can see Schar, Fernandez and Clark starting here, with Willems likely to return at left wing-back given he was rested on Tuesday. Matt Ritchie is now fit again, but I’m not sure he’ll start two games in a week after being out since August?
At right wing-back, Yedlin and Manquillo have both been ruled out, so it’s likely either Krafth or Hayden come in. The latter did a good job their against Wolves, but you’d have to question why we bought Krafth if he can’t even get a game when two of our first choice right-backs are injured!
In midfield, Shelvey seems likely to return after a cameo appearance against Rochdale, and I can see Hayden partnering him (if he doesn’t start at right-back) after both Longstaff’s were force to play 180 minutes each over the past week.
Up top, I can see Joelinton and Almiron playing either side of Carroll if the latter is passed fit (or Almiron in the 10 role behind two strikers), but don’t think Bruce will throw Saint-Maximin in from the start just yet.
Preferred NUFC XI – (5-2-2-1) – Dubravka – Ritchie, Schar, Fernandez, Clark, Willems – Hayden, Shelvey – Joelinton, Almiron – Carroll.
Here’s ‘ones to watch’ in Frank Lampard’s Chelsea side:
Tammy Abraham – The man who ‘turned us down’ a few years ago and a striker who’s repaying the faith Frank Lampard’s put in him this season, bagging 15 goals in all competitions already. He’s tall, has a decent turn of pace for his size, impressive movement and can be deadly in the box on his day.
Willian – The Brazilian is dangerous from set pieces and has a wicked left foot, being a player who could hurt us if given too much space in wide areas.
Reece James – The right-back looks a top English prospect and impresses me every time I see him for Chelsea. Powerful, quick and capable at both ends of the pitch, we could see an interesting battle between him and Miguel Almiron should Lampard hand him another start.
Callum Hudson-Odoi – The winger gave us a tough time at Stamford Bridge in the reverse fixture and will be full of confidence after bagging his first Premier League goal in Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Burnley last weekend. With us struggling for options at right-back, he might be fancying his chances.
Predicted Chelsea XI – (4-1-2-3) Kepa – James, Rudiger, Christensen, Azpilicueta – Kovacic – Mount, Kovacic – Willians, Abraham, Hudson-Odoi.
Allan Saint-Maximin and Fabian Schar are available once again, however Andy Carroll is expected to face a late fitness test.
Six players look set to miss out, with Yedlin, Manquillo, Dummett, Gayle, Ki and Muto all struggling with injuries.
Jonjo Shelvey could return to the starting 11, while Jamaal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie will be pushing to make their first Premier League appearances of 2020 after several months out.
For the visitors, Christian Pulisic remains out, but N’Golo Kante and Marcus Alonso have an outside chance of returning.
I can see there being a few goals in this one.
Chelsea are dangerous going forward but give you chances at the other end – and I can see us causing them a few problems with Almiron on form, Joelinton gaining a big confidence boost in midweek and Shelvey and Saint-Maximin fit again, we have reason to be hopeful heading into this one.
If we can get into them from the off and find the right balance between frustrating them at one end and hurting them at the other, I fancy us to come away with a good result here.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-2 Chelsea