Newcastle vs. Chelsea
Venue: St. James’ Park
Kick off: 6:30PM
Chelsea make the trip to the North-East to face Newcastle United looking to strengthen their hold of fourth position in the Premier League standings.
While Frank Lampard has witnessed his side produce inconsistent performances throughout the first half of the season, the Blues have still remained in the top four, providing the squad with the incentive to improve as the campaign progresses.
The Boxing Day setback at home to Southampton would have infuriated Lampard, especially with a below-par performance coming off the back of their most complete display of his tenure at Tottenham Hotspur.
However, the Blues have since put together a run of three wins and a draw from their last four games in all competitions, including back-to-back clean sheets at home to Nottingham Forest and Burnley.
Lampard has been outspoken about his team’s failure to take their chances in the final third, although keeping shutouts at the opposite end of the pitch is a priority given their struggles during the opening five months of the season.
Despite spending much of the campaign as backup to Kurt Zouma, Fikayo Tomori and Antonio Rudiger, the recent clean sheets have coincided with the recall handed to Andreas Christensen, who has been linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge.
Whether the Dane will continue to hold down a role in the first XI going forward remains to be seen, but his performances have ended Chelsea’s search for a new centre-back during the January transfer window.
Providing that Chelsea can keep things tight in front of Kepa Arrizabalaga, Lampard will feel that things will inevitably improve in the final third of the pitch given the welcome return to form of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ross Barkley.
While the English playmakers still have some way to go to fully win over the club’s supporters, they add an extra dimension to this team, and that can only help their cause during the next four months.
Steve Bruce will feel the same about Miguel Almiron, who is finally beginning to justify the then-club-record fee which Newcastle shelled out on his services 12 months ago.
The Paraguayan has contributed four goals from his last seven outings, including strikes which have guided the Magpies to four points against Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The playmaker’s efforts also helped Newcastle get the better of Rochdale in the FA Cup, lifting the mood at St James’ Park after four matches without a win in the Premier League.
The results in the top flight have led to Newcastle dropping down to 13th position in the standings, just five points above the relegation zone.
That will be a concern for Bruce, especially with the North-East outfit having to make trips to Everton and Arsenal over the next four weeks.
However, Newcastle have shown in the past that they are capable of raising their game in front of their own supporters, with four points being recorded against the two Manchester clubs earlier in the season.
Bruce will naturally call for the same kind of desire shown in those fixtures, while Newcastle fans will now be behind forward Joelinton after he ended his 20-match streak without a goal.
As Almiron has shown, breaking that run could soon result in contrasting fortunes, and the target man will relish the physical battle with Chelsea’s backline this weekend.
Newcastle United possible XI: Dubravka, Hayden, Fernandez, Lascelles, Lejeune, Willems, Ritchie, Shelvey, S.Longstaff, Almiron, Joelinton.
Chelsea possible XI: Arrizabalaga, James, Rudiger, Zouma, Azpilicueta, Barkley, Jorginho, Kovacic, Willian, Hudson-Odoi, Abraham.