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Opinion

Chelsea do Newcastle United a favour?

2 months ago
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Like any self-respecting Newcastle United fan, I can’t stand Chelsea.

It was tough to take what happened at Stamford Bridge.

Just two minutes of added time away from the League Cup semi-final and then Kieran Trippier and Newcastle United punished so cruelly for that one very late mistake, Chelsea equalising and then predictably winning (Newcastle losing!) the penalty shootout.

However, I want you to consider something.

Now don’t shoot the messenger… but have Chelsea actually done Newcastle United a favour?

I am just posing the question and up to you to draw your own conclusions but consider this.

These are/were the Newcastle United matches in January 2024:

Monday 1 January 2024 – Liverpool 4 Newcastle 2

Saturday 6 January 2024 – Sunderland 0 Newcastle 3

Saturday 13 January 2024 – Newcastle v Man City (5.30pm)

Saturday 27 January 2024 (weekend of) – Fulham v Newcastle

Tuesday 30 January 2024 – Aston Villa v Newcastle (8.15pm)

These COULD have been the Newcastle United matches in January 2024:

Monday 1 January 2024 – Liverpool 4 Newcastle 2

Saturday 6 January 2024 – Sunderland 0 Newcastle 3

Tuesday 9 January 2024 – Middlesbrough v Newcastle

Saturday 13 January 2024 – Newcastle v Man City (5.30pm)

Tuesday 23 January 2024 – Newcastle v Middlesbrough

Saturday 27 January 2024 (weekend of) – Fulham v Newcastle

Tuesday 30 January 2024 – Aston Villa v Newcastle (8.15pm)

As you can see, if we had got past Chelsea last month, then NUFC would have had a League Cup semi against Boro to play tonight or tomorrow.

Basically, at the start of January, Newcastle would have played Monday, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday. Matches against the current PL top of the table Liverpool, away at derby rivals Sunderland in FA Cup, away at (not really) derby rivals Boro in a League Cup semi, then reigning PL champions (five trophies in total in 2023) Manchester City. Only 12 days separating the first and last of these four matches.

Now also consider this…

These were the Newcastle United matches in January 2024:

Tuesday 3 January 2023 – Arsenal 0 Newcastle 0

Saturday 7 January 2023 – Sheffield Wednesday 2 Newcastle 1 (FA Cup 3rd round)

Tuesday 10 January 2023 – Newcastle 2 Leicester 0 (League Cup quarters)

Sunday 15 January 2023 – Newcastle 1 Fulham 0

Saturday 21 January 2023 – Palace 0 Newcastle 0

Tuesday 24 January 2023 – Southampton 0 Newcastle 1 (League Cup semi first leg)

Tuesday 31 January 2023 – Newcastle 2 Southampton 1 (League Cup semi second leg)

If you recall, that superb performance at the Emirates a year ago, was the first time Arsenal had failed to win at home in the Premier League last season AND the first time they had failed to score at home. Arteta was at his most embarrassing, which says something. Unable to handle the fact that Newcastle didn’t just roll over for them. They had been clear at the top of the Premier League for so long BUT was this the moment when potentially they ended up losing the title?

Anyway, a great performance and result for Newcastle United but Eddie Howe had a dilemma, so many important games in such a short space of time.

I remember a lot of Newcastle fans unhappy when the following Saturday, Eddie Howe changed eight of the team who played at Arsenal on the Tuesday. Newcastle should still have won, they had the chances, but undoubtedly the much weakened team contributed to defeat by the Owls and out of the FA Cup.

Despite Newcastle United flying so high in the Premier League (third at that point), so much vitriol from the media and indeed some of our fans, aimed at Eddie Howe for his team selection.

On the following Tuesday night that all forgotten about, by most normal people anyway. As a restored full strength NUFC totally dominated and beat Leicester 2-0 in the League Cup quarter-final.

Dan Burn

The first time getting to the competition’s semi stage in 47 years and only the second time in NUFC history!

The end of that month, as shown above, seeing Newcastle United win home and away against Southampton to take us to Wembley for a first final of any description in 24 years.

We played Southampton on consecutive Tuesdays with a free weekend in between. Southampton didn’t roll over and were competitive up to a point in both games, plus they had knocked out Man City 2-0 in the quarters. Consider this, IF Newcastle had won at Hillsborough, then Newcastle would have had to play an FA Cup fourth round match in between the two Southampton League Cup semi matches. Actually, that is what the Saints had to do, they played and beat Blackpool in the FA Cup fourth round last season on the Saturday in between our League Cup games.

Sean Longstaff Goal

We are into sliding doors moments. If Newcastle had won at Sheff Wed, what would he have done in dealing with having a fourth round FA Cup selection to make in between the League Cup semi matches?

Sometimes, you just can’t have it all.

Especially when you are a club / squad still recovering from a decade and a half of Mike Ashley and not having a squad that can cope with too many different competitions.

Even more especially when the above is true AND you have ten or more players missing for months, a situation that still persists.

I think the bottom line is that there is of course no completely right or wrong answer. You do of course have to go into every single match trying to win, however, you also have to accept that the more matches / competitions there are to play, the tougher it is to win them all AND players are not robots, they can play midweek after midweek BUT common sense tells you that at some time(s) their performances will be at a lower level (or two…).

Could / would Eddie Howe have approached the Mackem match in exactly the same way, if knowing we had a semi-final match in another competition only three days later?

Would we still be sitting here with the warm glow of absolutely dominating Sunderland and the hilarious reaction of their fans and media in the aftermath?

If you could take me back to Stamford Bridge in December, then I would absolutely want Trippier to deal with that dangerous cross better and Newcastle to see out the quarter final win.

At the same time, would that have been the best thing overall for Newcastle United, looking at all these other factors, especially so few players and what would have been so many matches? I’m not so sure.

When you think of the ridiculous over the top criticism Eddie Howe and his knackered players were already facing, just imagine what would have been the reaction if by trying to do it all and keep everyone happy, Newcastle had ended up losing at Sunderland AND losing convincingly in the League Cup semi first leg at Boro only three days apart?

0-3 Screen Stadium Of Light Sunderland Newcastle

Very likely as well, if also having a packed January of fixtures, then we could have seen the straws that would finally have broken the camel’s back in terms of injured payers. Instead of the situation hopefully improving this month, maybe ending up with more injuries and instead of at least getting a recognisable good level first eleven out. Instead (with no disrespect), maybe ending up with the likes of Ritchie, Dummett and another teenager or two hoyed in the deep end.

What kind of team and what kind of shape would they have been in, in terms of the Newcastle side to face Man City, if playing League Cup semi this midweek?

The cherry at the very top of the icing on all this, is that whilst it was disappointing to be drawn away yet again in the cups, the January that Fulham face is quite ironic from our position.

They HAVE managed to get into the League Cup semis and face two extra tough games against Liverpool before facing Newcastle United in the FA Cup.

They play Liverpool away on Wednesday night BUT the end of the month is most interesting.

Newcastle United have a two week gap to prepare for the FA Cup fourth round after Man City in the Premier League on Saturday.

Fulham though play Liverpool at home on Wednesday 24 January in their League Cup semi second leg, before playing on (almost certainly) Saturday 27 January against Newcastle United in the FA Cup.

If anybody doesn’t see this all as a massive help towards Newcastle United potentially reaching the FA Cup fifth round, then you are in denial.

Never mind the massive added bonus of using these two free weeks after Man City to help get missing players back AND maybe even more importantly, give so many players some recovery time to come back refreshed to throw everything at Fulham.

I would never give Chelsea credit for anything but just maybe, in the months ahead, we could just be looking back on that League Cup defeat as a major factor that helped Newcastle United set off on a magnificent FA Cup adventure…

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