Everyone has a bogey team, and for Chelsea it is their trips to St. James’ Park which have haunted them.
Despite winning on their last visit to Tyneside last November, Newcastle United have had that extra edge when they host the Blues, who have only won twice on their last eight visits to St James’.
From the last-minute winner in 2020 to a thrashing which denied Chelsea Champions League football two years earlier, it’s never an easy feat to leave the north-east with all three points.
Chelsea should feel confident of making it consecutive away wins at Newcastle for the first time since 2009.
Since the late September blip, Chelsea have won five out of five in October and are looking to make it six and cap off a 100% month. The Blues haven’t played that well in all of them, but it is credit to the quality of Thomas Tuchel’s men that they have emerged victorious every time.
They now enter a run of three fixtures which appear as straight-forward wins, playing two winless sides in the relegation zone either side of a trip to a sorry Malmö side.
Nine points out of nine is the minimum expectation ahead of another tough triple header after the November international break, but you never know when it’s Newcastle who lie ahead.
To focus on Saturday’s opponents for one moment, it is a precarious time to face Newcastle.
Still going off the buzz of their Saudi-led takeover and the end of the Mike Ashley era, Steve Bruce’s long-awaited departure gives the Magpies a new lease of life and belief that they can return to brighter days.
Yet it is important to remember that this is still a Newcastle without a win this season and languishing in the relegation zone, rarely impressing or looking like they can threaten just yet. The excitement and potential is there, the football is not.
Chelsea have faced a peculiar number of injuries this month, with more players in the treatment room than is usually anticipated at Cobham.
While the likes of César Azpilicueta and N’Golo Kanté return, Tuchel is faced with a quartet of key attacking absentees.
Christian Pulisic is back in training but is not yet ready to return to the pitch, while Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner remain sidelined from their injuries picked up in Champions League action.
But if there is one injury which stands out, it is Mateo Kovačić.
No-one had any doubts about the Croatian, until Tuchel hastily slipped it into his pre-match press conference. “Now that you remind me, I’m sorry I forgot to say,” Tuchel mentioned. “Yesterday, he injured himself in the last minutes of the training and suffers from a hamstring injury. He will be out for some weeks.”
Kovačić’s injury comes as not only a surprise, but as a disappointment too. He has been one of Chelsea’s best players this season as he continues to fulfil his attacking qualities, even adding goals to his game.
Thankfully, it is not all doom and gloom. Scenarios like these were exactly why many cried for midfield depth, and that is exactly what Chelsea have.
Jorginho and Kanté will remain the preferred partnership in Kovačić’s absence, yet Tuchel can also rely on the inform Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who himself has just returned from a small setback. Saúl is looking more comfortable as he continues to adapt to the Premier League, and even Ross Barkley has shown glimpses of his former self in recent outings.
Chelsea will miss Kovačić, but their midfield depth will certainly suffice. It will test Tuchel’s decision making and midfield choices, but if the last nine months has taught us anything, it is to trust Thomas.
The dilemmas extend to the frontline with the Blues missing an entire front three. Kai Havertz is nailed on to start up top and Mason Mount will surely be straight back into the starting XI, but who takes the third and final spot: Callum Hudson-Odoi or Hakim Ziyech?
The short answer: Hudson-Odoi. He is in far better form, at full fitness and playing at a consistent level, none of which can be said the same for his Moroccan counterpart. Perhaps Ziyech starts to give Hudson-Odoi a rest, but it simply has to be the Englishman starting on the wing.
Chelsea would be in a superb position should they win on Saturday, remaining top of the Premier League as they head closer towards the ruthless Christmas schedule.
November has infamously been the defining month for Chelsea’s season. Title-winning seasons have seen the Blues storm on during the month of Bonfire Night, but it is otherwise when their campaign explodes and combusts with a string of poor results.
With Leicester City, Juventus and Manchester United following the international break, those three games could be crucial. Granted, that is not the priority for another few weeks, but picking up the more attainable points now will put the Blues in a stronger position.
It is time for one of the most testing away days of the season, but under Tuchel, Chelsea have no-one to fear.
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