What: English Premier League
Who: Newcastle United vs Chelsea
When: Saturday 2nd February, 2013, at 15:00 UK Time
Where: St James’ Park, Newcastle, England
Allez Les Noirs!
The fifth French revolution is complete after Alan Pardew’s foray into the transfer market this month. Newcastle’s previously porous defence has been strengthened by the arrivals of Massaido Haidara, Mathieu Debuchy and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. Moussa Sissoko, signed from Toulouse, is also a useful physical presence in midfield who can add some solidity. He had a particularly impressive start to his Newcastle career on Tuesday night when he set up his team’s opening goal against Aston Villa for Papiss Cisse.
The ‘old’ French stars are also proving important for Pardew. Yohan Cabaye scored a stunning goal at Villa Park and his return to fitness and form is a welcome boost for his manager as he looks to steer Newcastle away from the relegation fight. A year ago Newcastle were battling Chelsea for a Champions League spot. Their fall this year has been truly alarming.
There is a glimmer of hope that Cisse’s strike on Tuesday marks his own return to the goals after a poor first half of the season. He was overshadowed by Demba Ba to a large extent and with the former Freiburg man now returning to his position as the focal point of the attack he may be able to revive the superb goalscoring form he showed following his arrival just over a year ago. These are interesting and exciting times for Newcastle. After a miserable couple of months, there is optimism and hope again following Mike Ashley’s timely investments this month. The mood will surely be rocking again at St James’ Park for the visit of Chelsea.
Dropped Points Haunting Chelsea
Chelsea seem unable to hold onto a lead these days and are doing a very fine job of proving the worn out and ridiculous cliche that “2-0 is the most dangerous score in football”. Having given away a 2-0 lead to Southampton earlier this month, very nearly repeating that trick days later against Arsenal and then ceding the same advantage at Reading on Wednesday night, manager Rafael Benitez will be working furiously to try and remedy the late lapses.
Benitez was warned earlier this week that his absolute priority is to make sure Chelsea finish in the top four and Arsenal and Tottenham are certainly doing their bit to help him achieve that goal. But the Stamford Bridge side surely cannot drop many more points against teams like QPR, Reading and Southampton if they are to retain their Champions League status for another season.
Much seems to rely on Juan Mata these days, both for creativity and to score the goals. It is not a complete coincidence that his departure with an ankle injury against Reading came 10 minutes before the team surrendered their 2-0 lead. It is easy to underrate the man who has possibly been the best playmaker in the Premier League this season. Oscar too has been impressive and dazzlingly entertaining when given a chance to play, but Benitez’s concerns lie further back with the defence, who seem incapable of keeping their opponents out. The return of John Terry was meant to help remedy that, but then he was unable to prevent Chelsea drawing 2-2 with League One Brentford last week. With a particularly congested fixture list ahead for the West Londoners, it is imperative that they get back to winning ways, and fast.
Norwich City 0-0 Newcastle United (12/01; Premier League)
Newcastle United 1-2 Reading (19/01; Premier League)
Aston Villa 1-2 Newcastle United (29/01; Premier League)
Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal (20/01; Premier League)
Brentford 2-2 Chelsea (27/01; FA Cup)
Reading 2-2 Chelsea (30/01; Premier League)
Newcastle United: Ryan Taylor; Danny Simpson; Hatem Ben Arfa; Cheick Tiote
Chelsea: David Luiz; Eden Hazard (suspended); Victor Moses; John Mikel Obi; Oriol Romeu
Players to watch
Newcastle United – Yohan Cabaye: The Frenchman continues to provide the perfect example of the value for money in Ligue 1 and his ability to run a game with his superb range of passing will be key to a Newcastle revival in the second half of this season. Cabaye forged a superb relationship with Cisse last season, setting up a number of the Senegalese forward’s goals. It may be timely for them to rediscover that partnership now – and so Cabaye will be vital here.
Chelsea – Oscar: With Eden Hazard suspended and Mata perhaps not 100 per cent fit, creative duties will fall on the former Internacional player. Oscar has been one of the best things about Chelsea’s season so far and he has adapted impressively from Brazilian football to the Premier League, which is a transition few players manage, and even fewer so quickly. Oscar’s dazzlingly quick feet were on display last week when he danced through an impossibly congested space against Brentford to fire in his team’s first goal. Not just immensely intelligent and skilful but also a hard worker, he is the key man for Benitez as he takes his Chelsea team north.
Newcastle, like Chelsea, went 2-0 up away from home in midweek and looked like they could throw the game away. They also gave away two late goals to Reading in their previous game to lose 2-1. This match should therefore be an interesting battle between two teams seemingly unable to hold a lead.
Chelsea, with superior players, should be expected to take the game to Newcastle and Pardew will be happy to let them do that. Newcastle are most effective absorbing heavy pressure and counter attacking. And given that Mata, who has either scored or set up 21 of Chelsea’s 49 league goals, may be less than match fit, they could struggle to break down the home team. Benitez however seeks to ensure that his team do not leave much space in between the lines, so the key for the home team will be making effective use of their wingers to stretch the pitch and their opponents.
Yoann Gouffran, Sissoko and Jonas Gutierrez floated around behind Cisse against Aston Villa, but Newcastle could have problems finding an opening if they stay too central, and the rampaging runs of Mathieu Debuchy could be vital. Terry should help restore some discipline to the Chelsea backline though, and so this game could turn into a bit of a slugfest in the middle without a huge amount of width. Newcastle 1-1 Chelsea.
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