Thursday, 10 May 2018

Newcastle United vs Chelsea Match Preview (13/05/18): Expect Blues to Sign Off on a High

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We had, in truth, left ourselves with too much to do in the race for fourth place, but even so we can feel slightly disappointed with our efforts in the 1-1 draw with Huddersfield on Wednesday.

Our aim was simple: to win our remaining matches and force Spurs and Liverpool to win theirs too.

And so the stalemate with the Terriers was a huge disappointment as it gifted the spoils to our rivals. Okay, so we can still technically finish fourth, but we need Liverpool to lose at home to Brighton and the chances of that are rather slim.

It’s all the more frustrating because we had ample chances to beat Huddersfield. Antonio Rudiger had a couple of great opportunities to score, while Andreas Christensen was denied by a fantastic save from the Terriers’ keeper Jonas Lossl.

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The introduction of Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud, surprisingly benched, after an hour did little to change the course of the game, and in the end proceedings fizzled out despite our dominance.

As the Huddersfield players and coaching staff celebrated with their fans, we were left to reflect upon a fairly mediocre campaign at Stamford Bridge which saw us take 37 points from a possible 57.

Lifting the FA Cup would be a welcome finale to a season beset by problems, and if it is to be Antonio Conte’s swansong as manager then it would be a fitting one.

Of course, there is one more Premier League engagement to take care of: a trip to a Newcastle side who have lost four on the spin. With some of these Chelsea boys playing for their places in that FA Cup final, we can expect a committed performance in what is otherwise something of a dead rubber.

Chelsea Team News

Conte made several changes for the visit of Huddersfield, with Andreas Christensen, Davide Zappacosta, Willian, Pedro and Alvaro Morata all coming in. Willy Caballero started in goal as Thibaut Courtois was struggling with a back injury.

It would be churlish to suggest that any of them advanced their hopes of making the Wembley starting line-up, and as such we would expect the strongest available Chelsea eleven to line up against Newcastle in a dress rehearsal for the final.

So Gary Cahill, Victor Moses, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud come back in, the shape is restored to the 3-5-1-1 that has worked so well recently, and we return home from the north east with three points that won’t affect our final league position but will restore some confidence ahead of the biggest game of our season next week.

Newcastle United vs Chelsea Head to Head

This is a storied fixture that dates back more than a century, and it’s one which we have traditionally enjoyed the upper hand in with 71 wins to Newcastle’s 52 (and 39 draws).

We are unbeaten in five against the Magpies with that run including four victories, although it should be noted that all of those came at Stamford Bridge. As far as our efforts at St James’ Park are concerned, we are actually without a win in four (W0 D1 L3).

Worries about that can be assuaged somewhat by our matches with them this term, which have yielded comfortable 3-0 and 3-1 victories in the FA Cup and in the league.

How the Match Will Be Won

This Newcastle set-up is actually quite similar to that deployed by Leicester City in their title-winning campaign of 2015/16.

They will play a rigid four at the back, with Mo Diame and Jonjo Shelvey patrolling in front. Shelvey’s role is particularly important as he is looked upon to spring long balls into the channels for Dwight Gayle to chase, in a partnership akin to that of Drinkwater-Vardy for the Foxes.

Matt Ritchie and Kenedy will provide the width, while Ayoze Perez provides support to Gayle as well as operating a key role defensively in closing down the opposition’s playmaker.

It’s a strategy that has worked well for them this term, by and large, despite their four-game losing streak of late.

So how do you combat it? Well, from a defensive perspective we have a sweeper to tidy up the loose balls played into the channels, and clearly the channel-running approach works better against two centre backs than three, so already we are well placed to deal with the Magpies’ attacking forays.

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Going forward, the key man – as ever – will be Eden Hazard. He can drop into the spaces between Newcastle’s defence and midfield and cause havoc in ‘the pocket’. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses will be looking to hit the by-line and float in crosses for Giroud to attack as well.

It could be a low scoring affair – Newcastle have scored one goal in 360 minutes of football – but Chelsea have the quality and the shape to see off the Magpies on Sunday.

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