The Opposition Opinion is back for another week as Frank Lampard’s in-form Chelsea side travel to St James’ Park.
This week, we caught up with Blues fan Jit Pankhania, with him giving us the lowdown on all things Chelsea and his views on Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United in the build up to today’s 12.30pm kick off on Tyneside.
Here’s what he had to say in response to our pre-match questions:
Q1 – To start off, what short of shape are Chelsea in coming into Saturday’s game? Keen to know what you’ve made of your start to the season…
“Starting off with the latter part of the question, for the first five or so games it’s obvious we struggled with team chemistry due to the several high profile signings we made, along with the lack of pre-season and injuries.
“We started off similar to where we finished last season, making mistakes and conceding nine goals in the first five Premier League games.
“It seemed that the turning point was based on a few things; the arrival of Mendy (new GK), a consistent back line, and key players coming off injuries such as Hakim Ziyech. He looks unbeatable and has played a major part in our last two games before the international break.
“Chelsea are coming into this game with the intent to win, especially after some strong international performances from Mount, Kovacic and Ziyech to name a few.”
Q2 – Give us your three star men, a ‘one to watch’ and your one weak link that could let you down…
“With the high profile signing we’ve made this season, it’s a very tough question!
“For me the star men would be Pulisic (when available), Ziyech and Werner.
“The ‘one to watch’ in my opinion is Reece James, he was quality with his time at Wigan (18/19) having picked up the player of the season award before coming back to Chelsea.
“The one to let us down was often Kepa, but maybe Ruidger or Christensen here if Thiago Silva misses out, as neither have played much this season.”
Q3 – As a team, what are the strengths and weaknesses of this Chelsea side?
“As a team I believe our biggest strength is the strength in depth we have, especially this season with the fixture list being so packed.
“We have proven to be a force to reckon with on the attacking front, having scored the most goals (20) in the league going into Saturday’s game. These goals have come from all around the team, not just the striker; which shows the tactical intent from Lampard to be an attacking side. The team is young, full of energy and tireless throughout any given game.
“The average age of the squad can also be seen as a weakness, as they are playing on the biggest stage in the world and still developing. Mistakes are made, which can be very frustrating but have to be accepted. This also ties in with the squad not having a proper core yet.
“The fans are waiting to see which players step up to take the leader roles in their respective areas on the field. Thiago Silva came in for the season to strengthen the defence and be that voice on the pitch, but this is clearly short term. We are seriously lacking a long term option to fill in this gap and it shows before Silva signed with the constant changes that were made to the backline.“
Q4 – Eight games in, what have you made of our start to the season?
“I think Newcastle have had the mid-table start that was expected to the season in terms of points won, but not so much the gameplay and management.
“Sitting in 13th place before the 9th game of the season you’ve managed to draw to Spurs (2nd) and beat Everton (7th). On paper these were some good points won but I don’t see Steve Bruce as your long term manager.
“He doesn’t seem to have a real plan from the games I’ve watched and has somehow managed to make your most exciting player in my opinion (ASM) look invisible at times by playing him in the number 10 role instead of on the wing.
“Defensively you are looking very poor with the most shots faced in the league and little intent to attack. Bruce has to change the formation and tactics up, he has a range of options that he could use instead of just sitting with a back five, waiting to get lucky…this won’t work for much longer.“
Q5 – Which players do you see as the strengths and weaknesses in Steve Bruce’s team?
“Disclaimer: I haven’t watched every Newcastle game but have seen highlights on MoTD so my answer is only based on the small amount of Newcastle games I’ve watched this season.
“Darlow has looked very consistent in goal making some top class saves, he’s made a huge impact on your goals conceded record so far into the season. He looks like he could even displace Dubravka when he’s off his injury.
“On paper you have a strong attacking side with the likes of Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser, Allan Saint-Maximin and Almiron who can all thrive within a more attacking style of play. Wilson is currently sitting as your top goalscorer with 6 goals and has proven to be an asset to the club.
“Manquillo, in my opinion, is one of your strongest players in the RB position. He brings a sense of urgency to the team going forward and has looked good defensively as well.
“This brings me to the weaknesses which show with an inconsistency in the RB/RWB position. I don’t really understand why Bruce isn’t utilising Manquillo in this position, but the inconsistency here could play a part with having the most shots faced so far.
“The midfield is the core of any team in football, any transitions in attack and defence fall through the middle of the park. This is a key problem area at Newcastle with the lack of quality options bar Hayden who scored the last minute winner in this same fixture last season.
“Shelvey has some quality passing in his pocket but is clearly getting on a bit, also I haven’t seen anything promising from Sean Longstaff or Hendrick yet. Can Matty Longstaff change the dynamics in this area?”
Q6 – What’s the Chelsea XI and formation Frank Lampard is likely to go with on Saturday? I see you have a few key players ruled out or facing late fitness tests…
“(4-1-2-3): Mendy – James, Rudiger, Zouma, Chilwell – Kante – Kovacic, Mount – Ziyech, Abraham, Werner.
“Pulisic and Thiago Silva look set to miss out, but seeing Chilwell passed fit is good news.
“Kai Havertz is back, but might start on the bench after just overcoming COVID-19“
Q7 – What sort of game are you expecting this to be and how do you see it panning out? Give us a prediction…
“I’m expecting a high possession game from Chelsea with Newcastle sitting back and looking for the counter.
“We have really struggled at St James’ Park with Newcastle losing just one of their last seven PL games against us here in recent times, so we will be hungry for a win.
“It’s probably going to be a repeat of last season in terms of how the game will play with Chelsea being a constant threat on the front foot, but I see us coming away with a win with the creativity and signings we have made. The approval of 5 subs could even be the game changer on Saturday.
“Newcastle 1 – 4 Chelsea
Q8 – Where do you see our two sides finishing in the 2020/21 table and which three teams are you backing to go down?
“Chelsea – 3rd
“Newcastle – 15th, if Bruce is still manager.
“Relegated – Fulham, Burnley, Sheffield United”
Q9 – Hypothetical of course, but if you could sign TWO players from NUFC, who would you like to see Lampard go for?
Allan Saint-Maximin and Isaac Hayden
A big thanks as ever to Jit for answering our pre-match questions.
Next up we’ll have the thoughts of a Crystal Palace fan ahead of our trip to Selhurt Park nex weekend!