Chelsea vs. Newcastle
Venue: Stamford Bridge
Kick off: 3PM
Chelsea head into today’s Premier League encounter with Newcastle United looking to extend their winning run in all competitions to five matches.
The Magpies make the trip to West London on the back of a 1-0 win over Manchester United, a result which has left the club in 16th position in the standings.
Having put together a run of four victories in the space of 11 days, the international break came at the wrong time for Chelsea as they bid to keep pace with the form clubs in the top flight.
However, Frank Lampard may have been content to take a step back in order to assess the development of a team which, for all of its potential, remains in transition.
Despite finally keeping a clean sheet this season, there remains clear signs that Chelsea must improve at the back if they to kick on to the next level, although Lampard will have far less concerns about his attack.
Eight goals have been netted in games against Brighton & Hove Albion, Lille and Southampton respectively, with the strikes being shared by six different players.
Callum Hudson-Odoi has also contributed three assists during those fixtures, leaving Chelsea fans salivating at the prospect of the teenager, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham being long-term occupants of the roles in the final third.
Nevertheless, despite now only sitting two points adrift of second-placed Manchester City, no-one at Chelsea is getting carried away with the strides which they have taken in recent weeks.
Lampard must find a way to manage his squad through seven more matches over a three-week period, which also includes a double-header with Ajax in the Champions League.
While the recently-appointed boss has shown a preference for youth since the start of the campaign, he has now reached the stage of the season where he will have to make more alterations to systems and personnel, leaving Chelsea with further obstacles to overcome if they are to continue on an upward curve.
Despite having endured plenty of criticism before and after his appointment at St James’ Park, Steve Bruce now finds himself in a place where the foundations have been laid to take his team forward.
While the 5-0 defeat at Leicester City was naturally perceived as a significant setback, it ultimately acted as the catalyst for the committed performance which led to the win over Man United before the international break.
The North-East outfit were far from perfect during that contest, although the work-rate – especially in the middle of the park – gave the club’s supporters something to get behind as they moved themselves out of the relegation zone.
The result marked the second victory over one of last season’s top six – the other coming at Tottenham Hotspur – and it will provide Bruce and his squad with all the belief that they require to get a result at Stamford Bridge.
Bruce will hope that academy graduate Matty Longstaff can replicate the performance which he produced against United, despite a stiffer task likely to await the youngster on away territory.
Nevertheless, Newcastle have been longing for players to come out of the youth setup to make an impact with the seniors, and Bruce may feel that building a partnership between Matty and his brother Sean will go some way to winning over the fans.
With Newcastle only a point above the relegation zone, however, Bruce must find a balance between selecting a team with his head and his heart, with there being no room for sentiment in the battle to keep the team above the bottom three.
Despite any positive result in England’s capital this weekend arguably being regarded as a bonus, Bruce is aware that points must be recorded on a regular basis if he is to keep the club’s fanbase on side in the long term.
Chelsea possible XI: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Tomori, Alonso, Jorginho, Barkley, Willian, Mount, Pedro, Abraham.
Newcastle United XI: Dubravka, Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Clark, Willems, Almiron, S. Longstaff, M. Longstaff, Saint-Maximin, Joelinton.