What: English Premier League
Who: Chelsea vs Newcastle
When: Saturday 25th August, 2012, 17:30 UK Time
Where: Stamford Bridge, London, England
Di Matteo Evolution Gets First Major Test
Chelsea enjoyed a comfortable start to the season against Wigan, but there was little to be learned from their performance. Two players new to the Premier League, Eden Hazard and Ivan Ramis, effectively decided the game within seven minutes, the latter making two major errors to hand Chelsea a 2-0 lead. From then on Chelsea sat back, Wigan were unable to take advantage of the chances that came their way, and it was a good start to the new campaign for the Londoners.
Against Reading in midweek (a 4-2 win), Di Matteo’s side showed in flashes what they will be capable of when Oscar, Juan Mata and Hazard are in tandem (not to mention Marko Marin). But for most of the game the Champions League winners struggled to break down stubborn opponents, albeit ones who at the same time were not overly defensive.
Newcastle will be a very different test. Alan Pardew’s side won this match 2-0 last season and enjoyed a superb victory over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend. Hazard will find that playing against streetwise Premier League defenders in Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor is a tougher test, while Fernando Torres will be hoping to stretch the Newcastle backline with his pace. If however, Pardew’s side defend deep, as would be expected, this should be a very interesting test for Chelsea.
Newcastle Pick Up Where They Left Off
Newcastle will have been delighted to kick off their campaign with a victory against a good Tottenham side, and will have fond memories of their last trip to Stamford Bridge in May. That day Papiss Cisse scored two goals of the highest quality – if he can net just one like it here again neutrals will be happy.
There is remarkably little pressure on this Newcastle side. Few expect the Magpies to repeat their feats of last season, yet they have lost none of their best players and have bought shrewdly again, with Romain Amalfitano and Vernon Anita joining.
The main concern for the Magpies was their trip to Greece to face Atromitos in Europa League qualifying, but they were able to travel across the continent without some of their key players, such as Demba Ba, Coloccini and Cheick Tiote. After a 1-1 draw against the Greeks, Newcastle now head to London for a match that will hold little fear after their victory the last time these sides met, and with possibly even less to lose.
Chelsea 4-2 Reading (22/08; Premier League)
Wigan Athletic 0-2 Chelsea (19/08; Premier League)
Chelsea 2-3 Manchester City (12/08; Community Shield)
Atromitos 1–1 Newcastle United (23/08; Europa League qualifying)
Newcastle United 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur (18/08; Premier League)
Hartlepool 1-5 Newcastle United (07/08; Friendly)
Chelsea: David Luiz (doubt); Marko Marin
Newcastle United: Fabricio Coloccini (doubt); Sammy Ameobi (doubt); Shola Ameobi (doubt)
Players to watch
Chelsea – Eden Hazard: The Belgian has continued at Stamford Bridge where he left off in the north of France with Lille. He has demonstrated why he has been so highly rated for so long by immediately adapting to English football, showing the same close control and intelligent passing that made him the Player of the Year in France in the last two seasons. Hazard’s decision-making is extremely mature for one so young and in a game where Chelsea will probably find it tough to break down one of the league’s strongest defences, he is the most likely of their creative forwards to be able to find an answer and make the breakthrough.
Newcastle United – Hatem Ben Arfa: The Frenchman started this season the way he finished the last and can give Blues left-back Ashley Cole an afternoon to forget. His team-mates will likely keep their shape and when in possession give him the ball to cause havoc in the Chelsea backline. Reading man Garath McCleary gave Cole a tough examination on Wednesday night and Ben Arfa is a different calibre of opponent altogether, with the close control and intelligence to unlock the Chelsea defence. And he will likely have more space than Hazard in which to do just that.
Alan Pardew is a canny tactician and he will have studied Chelsea’s performance against Wigan carefully. Fernando Torres can be a threat if given space, but Newcastle are a team happy to let their opponents have the ball and counter attack ruthlessly. Expect them to play deep and stifle the space in which Torres thrives. Chelsea do not have a physical presence up front anymore and with players like Mata and Hazard may find it a challenge to break down one of the Premier League’s best defences.
Unlike Reading, Pardew will not give his team the freedom to abandon their defensive shape in search of a winner. Chelsea are changing into a side which passes and probes their way to victory, rather than powering their way there. With that comes the kind of day Manchester United endured against Everton on Monday, where there is no way through a massed defence.
And Newcastle have the players, in Cisse, Ba and Ben Arfa, to launch daring counter attacks, and the further up the pitch Chelsea push, the more dangerous Pardew’s side could become. A confident, organised and powerful Newcastle side are a handful for any opponents and if Chelsea struggle to break them down and go chasing the game, then conversely it will be the away side who become the more likely winner of this one. Chelsea 0-1 Newcastle United.
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