There’s something about the Tyneside air that doesn’t suit Chelsea. Just one win in their last seven visits to Newcastle doesn’t bode too well for the continuation of their recent good form this weekend.
They’ve become unstuck at St James’ Park so often under various managers in the past few years that we’re entering hoodoo territory.
In 2013, under interim manager Rafa Benitez, Chelsea threw away a 2-1 lead by conceding twice to Moussa Sissoko as Demba Ba, jeered on his return to the north-east barely a month after moving, had his nose broken by Fabricio Coloccini’s high boot.
Chelsea striker Demba Ba suffers a broken nose after contact with Fabricio Coloccini’s high boot during their defeat at Newcastle United in 2013
Moussa Sissoko fired home Newcastle’s winner as they beat Chelsea 3-2 in February 2013
A few months later, Jose Mourinho was left angered by a 2-0 defeat that saw his team, who entered the game off the back of six straight wins, fritter away first-half dominance to lose to Yoan Gouffran and Loic Remy goals.
In 2014-15, a title-winning season for Mourinho’s Chelsea, they saw a 23-game unbeaten streak ended by defeat at St James’ as Newcastle hung on heroically with 10 men in the closing minutes to win 2-1.
It left Mourinho moaning bitterly about how ball boys and the home fans wasting time by not returning the ball quickly enough but Chelsea were sent back south with tails between legs.
Papiss Cisse celebrates after scoring Newcastle’s winner against Chelsea in December 2014
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea saw a 23-match unbeaten run ended at St James’ Park that day
Chelsea did snatch a 2-2 draw there in 2015-16, a season that saw Newcastle relegated, but the Blues were comprehensively second best in May 2018.
That 3-0 loss, in Antonio Conte’s final league game as manager, saw the chance of a top four finish squandered.
Chelsea won 2-1 there in 2018-19 under Maurizio Sarri but reverted to type last season in a performance which highlighted the lack of cutting edge in Frank Lampard’s attack.
They had 70 per cent possession and 19 shots on goal but Tammy Abraham, Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi couldn’t score before Isaac Hayden’s header clinched it for Newcastle in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
Antonio Conte’s last Premier League match as Chelsea manager was a 3-0 loss at Newcastle
The Blues were absolutely dominated that day as another of their managers headed for the exit
NEWCASTLE UNITED vs CHELSEA
Saturday; 12.30pm kick-off
Live on BT Sport 1 and BT Sport Ultimate
So visits to Newcastle have tended to highlight Chelsea flaws regardless of their manager but there are plenty of reasons to suggest Saturday lunchtime’s meeting will be different.
The first is the form guide. The two-week pause for international football really came at the wrong time fo Chelsea and Lampard, who were flying off the back of four consecutive wins in all competitions with three clean sheets, 14 goals scored and just one conceded into the bargain.
Though fifth in the table, Chelsea in a good position, within striking distance of the summit and, indeed, any win at Newcastle on Saturday lunchtime will lift them top for a short time at least.
By contrast, Newcastle, though safely ensconced in mid-table, have been inconsistent, lurching from a good result (1-0 at Tottenham, 2-1 against Everton) to a bad one right away (0-3 vs Brighton, 0-2 vs Southampton).
Isaac Hayden is mobbed after scoring Newcastle’s late winner against Chelsea last season
Chelsea’s lack of a cutting edge was exposed back in January as Hayden struck at the death
Indeed, their league form so far has been remarkably uniform: WLDWLDWL. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should be putting money on a draw this Saturday.
It’s difficult to know which version of Steve Bruce’s team will turn up on any given day, though they’re far from alone in being Jekyll and Hyde in this most chaotic of Premier League seasons.
But one common thread is that Newcastle’s leaky defence allows far too many shots through than it should do. An average of 16.5 per game across their eight in the league so far this season, higher than anyone else.
Even in their win over Everton at the beginning of the month, they allowed 15 shots to the opposition, while in the 4-1 loss to Manchester United last month it was a frankly unforgivable 28.
Newcastle’s leaky defence averaged 16.5 shots against them in every Premier League match
It’s become a glaring weakness their manager Steve Bruce hasn’t managed to sort out
This brittleness at the back combined with the scoring form that Chelsea have shown of late all points to a rout unless Bruce has somehow instilled a new-found solidity in his defenders over the past fortnight.
No doubt that 1-0 defeat at St James’ last season convinced Lampard that serious investment was needed in his blunt forward line. Fast-forward to the present and things are coming together nicely.
Summer arrivals Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz (before his positive Covid test) have started to form a very good understanding with Abraham, Mason Mount and other players already in the team.
That was apparent in the 4-1 win over Sheffield United before the international break. Chelsea scored four but it could easily have been at least double.
Chelsea were rampant in their 4-1 victory over Sheffield United before the international break
Frank Lampard will be highly encouraged at how his Chelsea team has improved of late
So the combination of increasingly effective attacking force and infuriatingly porous defence strongly suggests Chelsea will, this time, be heading back down the A1 with three points.
Lampard has also been satisfied with the great understanding shown between Ziyech and right-back Reece James, the potential of which he spotted last season even before the Moroccan arrived.
Then there’s the strong spine Chelsea now have – almost reminiscent of the title-winning teams Lampard played in – stretching from veteran Thiago Silva in defence, through the industry of N’Golo Kante, to the craft of Mount and Havertz to the ice-cool finisher Werner up top.
It’s a backbone absent for much of last season, something exposed by results such as that 1-0 loss at Newcastle. With Silva, 36, bringing his vast experience to bear, a defensive strength has been found that was also missing for Lampard’s maiden season.
Timo Werner has found his scoring touch with five goals in his last four Chelsea outings
Another summer signing, Hakim Ziyech, has started to show his class in recent weeks
Veteran defender Thiago Silva (right) has brought leadership and stability to the defence
Of course, for an outlay of over £220million in the summer transfer market, you would fully expect Chelsea to be much improved.
In the past, the raucous St James’ atmosphere has perhaps unsettled Chelsea, likewise the physicality of past Newcastle teams and the fact the serial champions were viewed as a prize scalp.
With the stands empty on Saturday, facing Newcastle on Tyneside doesn’t carry the intimidation factor of previous years.
It all points to Chelsea’s visit being less of a slog on the Tyne as in the past. However, better Chelsea teams have travelled north and come away empty-handed and this remains the most unpredictable of seasons.