After two weeks of trying to forget that horror show at Southampton, seeing our international stars in action and listening to Almiron’s agent link him with a new club every day, Premier League action finally return to St James’ Park.
Saturday’s early kick-off sees Chelsea come to town – a team that will be smelling blood after scoring seven in their last two league games as their summer signings begin to click into top gear.
It goes without saying that we’ll need to be MUCH better than we were at St Mary’s if we want to avoid a walloping, never mind earn a result, with this being no injury-riddled Everton who we beat via a surprisingly solid performance in our last home game.
I’m expecting some form of a response after our abysmal showing at Southampton – the players owe us that – but whether Bruce can muster up a game plan to keep this high flying Chelsea side at bay is another matter.
The good news is that Callum Wilson has declared himself fit to play – although Bruce has stressed that he won’t be taking any risks on his hamstring if he’s not 100% ready.
Sadly, the game will come too soon for Ryan Fraser, with him yet to recover from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Southampton trip and Scotland’s Euro 2020 decider.
Jonjo Shelvey and Matt Ritchie are back in training, however it could be a bench role at best for them after the gaffer suggested they’d not be fit to start until our trip to Palace next weekend.
Elsewhere, Martin Dubravka, Paul Dummett and Dwight Gayle have been ruled out, with Miguel Almiron facing a late fitness test after returning late from Paraguay.
For the visitors, Ben Chilwell has been passed fit despite missing England’s 4-0 win in midweek, but the Blues look set to be without Thiago Silva and Christian Pulisic. Kai Havertz has overcome COVID-19, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be fit enough to start.
Predicted line up
Predicted NUFC XI (5-4-1): Darlow – Manquillo, Fernandez, Lascelles, Clark, Lewis – Murphy, S Longstaff, Hayden, ASM – Wilson.
I’ve thought for a few weeks that Ciaran Clark will be knocking on the door for a start when fully fit – and his Ireland call-up suggests he’s finally ready to play.
With Schar looking half asleep and erratic in our 2-0 loss at Southampton, I reckon Bruce might just hand our reliable Irishman a rare start. After all, he rarely puts a foot wrong when he plays – and we’ll need players to be on their guard against this lethal Chelsea attack.
Because it could well be a backs against the wall job, I can also see Manquillo coming back in for Murphy – who was another to struggle at St Mary’s. For me, the Spaniard remains our best right-back and hasn’t done much wrong over the past 18 months.
In midfield, it’s time Hendrick was taken out of the firing line for me – especially now Hayden is fit.
Almiron has played in a midfield three in our last three games, but with him not returning from Paraguay until 11pm on Thursday and being linked with a move away all week, I think Bruce may pair Sean Longstaff with Hayden (a partnership that’s worked in the past).
I wouldn’t be surprised if Matty Longstaff gets a rare start should Bruce stick with the 5-3-1-1 he’s gone with in recent weeks.
With this freeing up an extra spot in the final third, I can see Saint-Maximin being moved to the left (he’s wasted in a No 10 role) and Jacob Murphy getting a chance to prove himself on the other wing after a few weeks in more of a right-back role.
Then, up top, it’ll be Callum Wilson – providing he does pass a late fitness test. Let’s hope his hamstring holds up, because I dread to think how we’ll pose a goal threat if it’s Carroll or Joelinton up top!
Here’s a few ones to watch in Frank Lamprd’s Chelsea side:
Hakim Ziyech – The Moroccan is a majestic player who has made an instant impact, bagging a goal and three assists in his two Premier League starts since returning from injury. He’s a little bit of Kevin De Bruyne and a little bit of Riyad Mahrez and promises to give Jamal Lewis a real tough test down our left-hand side.
Timo Werner – It remains to be seen if he’ll start this one, with him absent from recent training photos, but we’ll be hoping their German hitman misses out after finding form in recent weeks with four goals in his last four PL starts.
Rudiger / Christensen / Tomori – With Thiago Silva is set to miss out, it’s essential we get at whoever comes in for the experienced Brazilian. He has been a calming influence in Chelsea’s back four who’s got the best out of Zouma, so we’ll have to hope Wilson can ruffle up one of Rudiger, Christensen or Tomori and get ASM running at them.
Predicted Chelsea XI: (4-1-2-3): Mendy – James, Zouma, Rudiger, Chilwell – Kante – Kovacic, Mount – Ziyech, Abraham, Werner.
I would love to say we’ll go back to 4-2-3-1, get into them from the off and put pressure on a defence that’s set to be without calming influence Thiago Silva, but I can’t see it.
Instead, I imagine we’ll sit deep, let them dominate possession and hope to defend well and hit them on the break every now and then.
We were the better team against Everton in what was a rare enjoyable watch under Bruce at St James’ Park, however I don’t see Chelsea being nearly as tame and passive as the Toffees were that day.
Sit back and give Chelsea endless opportunities to mount attack after attack and I can only see it going one way.
Hoping for another Isaac Hayden inspired 1-0 win. Fearing a hammering!
Prediction: Newcastle 1-3 Chelsea