Chelsea versus Newcastle United, two teams built on a great history and within a few points of each other this Premier League season.
Usually when we play Chelsea and we are within a few points of them it is because it is September, but at home at least our results have usually been better against Chelsea than the teams’ respective league positions would suggest.
This time we go to Stamford Bridge having not scored in our last three games there, all defeats, and our league cup win and Papiss Cisse inspired league victory of a few years ago seems like a long time ago. Can we go there and win?
Guus Hiddink is the current caretaker backside in the Stamford Bridge managerial ejector seat and he’s been there before.
It’s ironic that people often accuse Newcastle of harking back to their heroes, Keegan and Shearer always branded as ‘messiahs’ and touted as potential candidates for any SJP job going. Chelsea seem to be on a managerial merry-go-round of their own, at this rate, the next four Blues managers between 2016 and 2018 will be Villas-Boas, Hiddink, Mourinho and Hiddink again.
(Top image caption Chelsea: You don’t have to wear a mask to work here, but it helps.)
Golden Guus is supposedly in consideration for the job permanently alongside Pochettino, Allegri, Mark Hughes, anyone else who currently has a job in football and outsiders John Carver and Michael Caine from Escape To Victory – but Hiddink must be in pole position having officially ‘steadied the ship’ at Stamford Bridge, which is TV speak for not losing as many games as the last bloke but not winning many either.
He’s 11 games unbeaten so far in his second spell, great stuff, but when you are celebrating a last minute equaliser against Manyoo at home you are either at the bottom of the league, like us, or desperate for any positive news, like them. He hasn’t changed much about Chelsea since taking over from Jose late last year, he probably didn’t need to. Hiddink has just stopped doing stupid things and making stupid comments which has been enough to make them go 11 games unbeaten.
For NUFC, Steve McClaren hasn’t stopped doing stupid things and making stupid comments but he has managed to buy a couple of players who have made a difference, at home at least. Unfortunately, today we are playing away and we’ve lost 9 games out of 12 away this season so Steve has some work to do, but after the West Brom win it sounds like he was getting up for the task:
“People over-react a lot. I would say four or five times I have genuinely come in after and been honest and said, ‘That’s unacceptable and not good enough’. The other times, and especially here, we have played good football, attacking football, the crowd has been fantastic and they have been great atmospheres and great games. We have got to continue that. We have got to improve our away form and show that kind of character away from home, be tough to beat, keep clean sheets, but playing the attacking football that we do.”
Even though his definition of “great games” and “attacking football” seems straight out of the Alan Pardew book of ‘Me and My Greatness’, he’s trying to address our failings at least. If we stay up this season, spend another £80million, you never know, they can trot out that ‘Top 8 Finish and a Cup’ line again and perhaps believe it this time.
It is in defence that our only likely team change will take place. Well that Rolando Aarons played against the hapless Baggies last week, especially when he shoulder-charged chief mug Craig Gardner into the advertising boards, with Lascelles and Jack Colback both available to play it is unlikely that Steve McClaren will resist the temptation to go with a more experienced back four.
Given Aarons performances away from home that may not be a bad shout, home teams pressure more than away teams and good teams pressure more than bad teams so Chelsea might feel that Aarons at left back is a weak link they can exploit. They’ll probably think that about Lascelles as well, and the other three defenders we have on show to be honest, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Colback at number 3 this weekend.
For the Blues, Kurt Zouma won’t play because of a serious injury, “a sporting tragedy” according to a rather melodramatic Hiddink but that should give the Dutchman the opportunity to pair Gary Cahill with nearly-out-of-contract-again John Terry, “a personality tragedy” according to anyone with the surname ‘Ferdinand’.
This may be the last time we play against John Terry though I’m not sure where he thinks he’ll be going next season, they don’t let people like him in the United States, I’m not sure how welcome he’d be in China or the UAE. With his press reported attitude to women and minorities, the only place he’d probably be welcome is Northern Iraq and I’m not sure how much he’d fancy that.
For us in midfield, Tiote should continue alongside Shelvey. I know the Ivorian has now played one game on the trot in a rare unbroken one game spell so he’ll be tired and due an injury, but with 18 days off after this game he can get another two week holiday in China, or Marbella, or wherever it was he went last time, before returning to England for the Stoke game in March.
Chelsea Football Club: A Dennis Wise friendly zone.
Maybe he should take the rest of the squad with him, they deserve a holiday, they’ve been brilliant and these free FA Cup weekends don’t come along very often. Tiote played well against WBA, having someone who can pass alongside him and players who can attack in front of him definitely reduces the time he spends on the ball, a pre-requisite of any decent Tiote performance. “Get it and give it”, those should have been the only words they taught him in English.
So it is unlikely we’ll make any changes in midfield or up front for this game, but it may be a positive step to play Ayoze Perez from the start today. I doubt very much that McClaren will change a winning team but putting Ayoze in for Sissoko or Wijnaldum might remind the two internationals that their performances must improve over the next few months and beyond.
A bit harsh on Georgie perhaps but he was anonymous against West Brom and has been invisible away from home this season. We can perhaps understand a similar performance at Stamford Bridge, though at Carrow Road and Villa Park later in the season it will be unforgivable.
For Chelsea, January loan signing Pato the Duck won’t get picked by Golden Guus because the Brazilian is still getting used to life in London and Pedro seems to be out of favour, so the only change Chelsea could make is Loic Remy strolling onto the pitch for the start of the game for the first time since the end of the Coalition. Remy is currently the topic of some speculation that he will be moving to China in the next couple of weeks though Hiddink refutes this:
“I think this squad that we have now will stay until the end of the season. We like to have double cover in positions and you never know what will happen (in terms of injuries), so I don’t see many changes at this moment.”
I think that is probably true, though Remy hardly has a reputation for loyalty and playing for the love of the sport rather than the money. Double his pay and he’ll be off no matter what, where or when. Remy will only play today if Diego Costa doesn’t, though I’m sure he’s not bothered whether he plays or not as long as he gets paid, but with Falcao injured and Costa doubtful it could be either Remy or Jose’s insane Hazard false number 9 tactic.
A small, cross-eyed layabout and a koala bear.
Diego Costa is doubtful having broken his nose after a clash in training on Thursday. Supposedly it is very painful. Which is nice. If Costa does play he’ll be wearing a mask, which will be an improvement on his current Dexys Midnight Runners Come On Eileen get up – but the mask won’t hide that he has scored a lot more goals for Hiddink this season than he has for Jose, so Guus has got his gander up and we’ll do well to keep him off the scoresheet.
Diego Costa: Misunderstood.
With Kurt Zouma’s injury, John Terry’s publicity and Champions League and FA Cup games coming up, Hiddink can be forgiven for overlooking today’s game but not so:
‘We take this game very seriously,’ said Hiddink.
Steve McClaren meanwhile said:
“We’ve got to go there with no fear and have a go. We owe it to the fans and hopefully we can get a good result. The focus for our players is us, not our opponents.”
Before going on to talk about how good Leicester are for a while. That’s focus for you. Howay The Lads.