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Chelsea vs. Newcastle United, Premier League: Opposition Analysis

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The longest-running soap opera in English football comes to Stamford Bridge on Saturday. What insane twists lay in store?

Newcastle United v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

The Season Just Gone

Newcastle’s long-suffering fans endured yet another nerve-shredding relegation battle in 2018-19, which under the guidance of Rafa Benítez ended in mid-table security. As midfielder Isaac Hayden pointed out, their final position was not really indicative of the campaign they’d had – the players themselves considered themselves escape artists somehow surviving by the skin of their teeth, not established Premier League players slumming it at the bottom of the table.

Once the Magpies’ top flight status had been secured, the focus turned once again to owner-cum-cockney-supervillain Mike Ashley, whose promise to find a suitable, more passionate custodian seemed to have found such a party. Parties involved in the Dubai-based consortium apparently close to sealing a deal to buy the club even toasted each other online, stoking the fires of ambition and bringing an end to the nightmare of Ashley’s ownership into clear focus.

The deal, however, was never concluded. As the wait for news went on, Benítez’s contract expired and, sick of working under Ashley, he moved to China. Having lost a messianic, unifying and Champions League-winning manager, Ashley hired Steve Bruce. In doing so, he made Newcastle immediate favourites for relegation this time around.

The Transfer Window

It used to be that the dearth of quality in Newcastle’s squad could be underplayed somewhat as the fans’ belief could be placed in Benítez to mould them into a unit many times better than the sum of its parts could suggest. With Benítez not just gone but replaced by a serial loser at this level, things were looking bleak — they quickly got worse. A few days after Benítez departed, Ayoze Pérez signed for Leicester for £30m. It became clear that Salomón Rondón wasn’t coming back either, meaning that as well as losing their manager, the Magpies had lost their two top scorers from last season.

Ashley had no option but to invest to get the fans back onside. Brazilian striker Joelinton came in for £40m. Allan Saint-Maximin joined for a further £20m. Andy Carroll returned home on a free. Joelinton is more of a targetman than a goalscorer, however. Saint-Maximin has the x-factor but lacks consistency. Andy Carroll is Andy Carroll.

This was not a good transfer window by anyone’s standards.

The Season So Far

Steve Bruce’s Newcastle have been nothing if not dramatic. They’ve been admirable and resolute in beating Tottenham and Manchester United 1-0, and the latter victory was even more special as the goal was scored by Matty Longstaff, a home-grown Geordie making his first start. At the same time, they’ve been dismal in humiliating collapses away to Norwich and Leicester. The good news is they’re not dead yet. The bad news is, we’re all just waiting for them to collapse.

Tactics

Bruce has stuck to the Rafa Benítez 5-4-1/3-4-3 template, which allows Newcastle to pack bodies behind the ball, minimising their individual shortfalls against much better sides. That said, he hasn’t managed to maintain their focus or discipline anywhere near as well as Benítez did — unsurprisingly.

At their worst, as they were in those drubbings against Norwich and Leicester, as well as in the home draw against Brighton, it looks doubtful that Newcastle actually have any tactics. One can’t help but wonder what it is Bruce does in training all week.

Their success seems to depend far less on how they set up and far more on how fired up they are and whether they’re able to roll with the punches on the day of the game. Against Spurs and Man Utd, they took a beating but held firm. In their defeats, they hit the mat before a heavy hit was needed.

Strengths

Geordie brothers Sean and Matty Longstaff have arguably the best and most authentic feel-good story about a player representing their hometown club in years.

Allan Saint-Maximin is capable of producing moments that Ronaldinho would be proud of.

Fabian Schär is much better than the rabble he finds himself alongside.

Weaknesses

Specifically, football.

Expected XIs

Isaac Hayden is suspended and Newcastle have a long list of long-term absentees. Otherwise the XI should be familiar.

Frank Lampard will be waiting on news of N’Golo Kanté’s fitness, while Mateo Kovacic and Emerson Palmieri will be fighting to make the starting lineup. One of Willian, Pedro and Callum Hudson-Odoi will be unlucky to find themselves on the bench.

Prediction

Chelsea 2-0 Newcastle.