On a matchday which Newcastle fans might want to forget, elsewhere a much more thrilling match took place. A 3-2 between Chelsea and Arsenal, with the winners coming up to St. James’ Park this week to replay that stunning season’s closing match in May earlier this year.
Opposition At A Glance
Antonio Conte, a league winning manager, was sacked early in the transfer window. Reports about falling out with the board, etc., but we can only repeat rumours. It doesn’t matter. He’s the past. Chelsea’s new manager is Maurizio Sarri. The 59-year-old has managed a lot of teams already, most of them in Italy, with a very successful 3 year-stint at Napoli before joining Chelsea this July. He played against Rafa twice, winning one and drawing the other. Sarri’s style is very offensive and offers a lot going forward. Usually, he sets his team up in a 4-3-3.
His tactics are a little like those of Pep Guardiola. With a high line of pressing, dominating possession and a lot of pass-and-move football it results in a very attractive style of play. He’s often compared to the tiki-taka style of football and Napoli used to pass a lot in the final third, creating chances and boosting Expected Goals out of the roof. Watching his side in Italy was a joy and anything but classic Italian football. He brings good football to the Premier League and time will show how it works with the Chelsea squad, judging from their last game, it does quite well.
On paper, Chelsea’s squad is very balanced and contains a lot of quality; these players should all be playing in the final rounds of the Champions League. Since Sarri, they line up in a 4-3-3, with a centre-midfield of Kanté, Barkley and Jorginho as a defensive midfielder in front of the back four. The bench holds Mateo Kovacic who came on for Barkley in Week 2, but he could surely also be a starter for Chelsea.
In the front three, there are Willian and Pedro on the wings, where Hazard remained benched for the last two games, but I think he will be starting soon. In the centre, there is the Spanish forward Morata, with Giroud as a backup. In defence, David Luiz and Rüdiger have taken the centre back roles so far, with Christensen as an available backup or even as a starting replacement for Luiz. Their full-backs so far were Alonso and Azpilicueta, with Zappacosta as an additional right-back and Emerson on the other side.
Chelsea signed four players this summer, with the most underwhelming one being Rob Green from Huddersfield as
As Chelsea dealt with Real Madrid this summer already, they also arranged a loan signing for them with the Austria-born Croatian international Mateo Kovacic, efficiently strengthening their squad in the midfield position. Another midfield addition is the defensive player Jorginho from Sarri’s ex-team Napoli. The Italian is an asset the manager didn’t want to miss at Chelsea, and it’s usually good for a manager if he can bring in players who know their tactics and were vital for them before.
Last Match Against Arsenal
The game couldn’t have started better for the Blues, who found themselves 2-0 up against their London rival after just 20 minutes. Jorginho played a wonderful pass to left-back Marcos Alonso, who then assisted Pedro to score the opener after just nine minutes into the match. Arsenal, not being able to set up well in defence, made other mistakes and allowed Morata to score another. Arsenal were unlucky as Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan could have scored soon after. A long-range effort by Mkhitaryan went in at the 37 minute. Shortly after, it was Alonso who got walked by Bellerin, as Hector set up a nice play again with an outcoming equaliser in the 41st minute. Arsenal was exposing Sarri’s backline like that. The Italian wanted half-time more than his cigs at this point.
In the second half, Chelsea did well, improving a lot from the last 10 minutes of the first. Sarri seemed to have sorted out things down in the tunnel. After an hour into the game, he brought on Kovacic for Barkley and Hazard for Willian. These subs changed the game: having such quality options from the bench and a fitting setup, the balance of play was in Chelsea’s favour and it was just a question of time ’til they would win it. In the end, it was an out-of-position Alonso who found himself at the end of a Hazard cross to score the 81st-minute winner for them
Chelsea: Preview for the fixture
Remembering the 3-0 win at St. James’ in May this year feels great and all the upsets Newcastle caused against them at home make it even better. The last time the Magpies lost to Chelsea at home was in 2011.
Chelsea will lineup different to last time up north. Anything other than a 4-3-3 is unlikely with Sarri. I can see Hazard and Kovacic start over Barkley and Willian this time around. Can’t say much, but we might see some rotation with Christensen playing over Luiz this time.
For their tactics, Chelsea will try to dominate the play, upset our defenders and go forward fast. Again, I can see an attacking down their left side more, as the right flank is Newcastle’s weak spot, even if the starting right-back is still not set. For neutrals, this could turn out to be a class game, with Sarri playing attacking, possession style, short-passing football and Rafa setting his team up in a shape where Chelsea might struggle. In addition, Chelsea might still feel that they must give Newcastle some revenge for the last time up here.
Newcastle: Preview for the fixture
Newcastle are coming off a lacklustre 0-0 at Cardiff City, where they were frustrated once again by a high-pressure side. Though the Magpies were able to outperform the Bluebirds in terms of chance quality, there is still a feeling that Newcastle fans have yet to see the side play at a level befitting the Top 10.
As Kenedy is on loan from parent club Chelsea, he will be replaced by either Atsu, Murphy, or Muto. Muto has been one of the first subs to come in the two games played, signalling that he could be close to starting contention. Atsu didn’t make it on as a sub against Cardiff City, which could mean that he remains firmly 2nd (or 3rd) choice.
Yedlin appears fit enough to return to his starting spot. Elsewhere, it does seem as if Salomon Rondon’s first start for the club looms closer with each passing week. Look for Joselu to remain a starter until Rondon appears fully acclimated to Rafa’s system.
While Rafa has shown a willingness to change his beloved 4-2-3-1 setup in scenarios were there is a severe mismatch, he stayed the course last May when Newcastle hosted Chelsea. The manner in which this game unfolds should resemble the Tottenham fixture from Week 1 – Chelsea should hold the lion’s share of possession with a higher, mobile backline pushing up, and Newcastle will look to break in behind on counter-attacks. In defence, Newcastle will be very compact and conservative in their closing down. Mo Diamé, of course, will likely get free reign to disrupt Chelsea’s build-ups.
This game will be different to last time. Newcastle will struggle, and an upset here would be even bigger than that 3-0 win. Newcastle has a good record, but numbers and stats aren’t everything. On paper, Chelsea should beat the Magpies quite easily. Let’s hope Rafa can set up a structured defence, Diame keeps Kanté in his back pocket again, and our strikers find the net again. Even with the odds against them, Newcastle taking points here would be great especially after that woeful draw against Cardiff.