The Premier League season is back and will now continue unbroken into midwinter. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview our return to action with the longest trip of all…
As we approach the end of the first quarter of the season, fifth-placed Chelsea are four points up on last season’s corresponding fixtures, with 11 games to come in quick succession between now and the new year.
History has Newcastle as the Blues’ toughest Premier League away trip after Liverpool and Arsenal, but the Premier League’s leading goalscorers and most efficient marksmen are unbeaten on the road this campaign.
Saturday’s match will be the second early start of the campaign, offering supporters the possibility of walking on air for the whole weekend after a result like the 4-0 against Palace, or sitting under a cloud till Tuesday if the outcome is bad.
The 12.30pm kick-off also presents particular challenges when it follows worldwide internationals. The protocol is for all returning players to be tested for coronavirus and on Thursday, Frank Lampard reiterated his support for the return of five substitutes during the pandemic as absentees increase.
Any win on Tyneside would take the Blues top of the pile on goal difference, at least until Liverpool host leaders Leicester, and Tottenham entertain Manchester City. Southampton, the only other side currently above Chelsea, are at Wolves.
Chelsea have scored three or more goals in five of the past six Premier League matches, and remain undefeated during that run.
— KEY STAT
Chelsea team news
Last season’s trip to St James’ Park was spoiled in the dying seconds by Isaac Hayden’s soft header from Allan Saint-Maximin’s cross. Steve Bruce set up the hosts in a formidably defensive 5-4-1 and surrendered 70 per cent of ball possession.
The Magpies’ rearguard fought hard and the Blues found it hard to convert openings into chances in a match that ended in a 1-0 defeat. That scenario may hopefully not apply now with the additional energy, creativity and firepower of the current side. Patience could also be key: almost half of all goals at St James’ this season have arrived in the last quarter-hour.
Chelsea have netted 34 goals in all competitions so far this season, and newcomers have accounted for precisely half of them: Timo Werner (8), Kai Havertz (4), Ben Chilwell (2), Hakim Ziyech (2) and Thiago Silva (1). They’ve also weighed in with 13 assists.
The habit continued during the international break: in-form Hakim Ziyech scored three times for Morocco, Callum Hudson-Odoi netted twice for England’s Under 21s, Mason Mount scored for the seniors, France’s N’Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud netted and Jorginho was on target for Italy.
Timo Werner arrives on Tyneside in blistering form, with 10 goals from 10 games for club and country, and even Mateo Kovacic scored two great goals for Croatia.
Ziyech’s delivery of undefendable crosses and bravery to attempt game-changing passes could prove most vital against hosts if they are defensive. Among the seven goals by Blues defenders have been several, like Thiago Silva’s at home to Sheffield United, that have delivered training ground routines where it matters. Lampard’s side lead the way with goals from set-plays but this season’s teams have oozed goals from all situations.
In a successful run of results defensive solidity can be paramount, and the back four has been virtually unchanged when all players have been available. However, Thiago Silva will not travel as he only reported back on Thursday (as did most of our England contingent). In October against Southampton (when Edou Mendy was also absent) the Brazilian’s place was taken by Andreas Christensen.
Teenage midfield prodigy Billy Gilmour returned for 60 minutes in the EFL Trophy (now the Papa John’s Trophy) on Wednesday, and Kai Havertz is back on the training ground and now clear of Covid. He has been training on his own. Christian Pulisic is still nursing his injury, however.
Timing can be crucial, and at a time when the Blues have these absentees Hudson-Odoi put in a thrilling man-of-the-match performance for England’s Under-21s on Tuesday.
Newcastle are still licking wounds from the 2-0 defeat by Southampton, or rather the ease of it, with Steve Bruce hinting at a team reboot. The Magpies boast the ninth-best defensive record in the top flight, but are 13th highest goalscorers (alongside Manchester City), commensurate with their current league position.
Bruce can have a safety-first approach, even at home, stringing a narrow back five behind a protective three- or four-man midfield. The aim is for his side to then spring into life in possession, looking to unleash the ingenuity of Saint-Maximin, Almiron or Joelinton, and the main goal threat posed by former Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson.
The Tynesiders are the top flight’s most shot-shy team and the arrival of another signing, Burnley midfielder Jeff Hendrick, has meant fewer minutes for last season’s match winner in this fixture, Isaac Hayden.
A fortnight ago, the Geordie midfield was forced into errors by Southampton’s comprehensive pressure, and both goals conceded resulted from the loss of possession in dangerous areas. The ‘gifts’ (as Bruce described them) were especially galling for the Toon coach as all week in training they had worked on bypassing the Saints’ fierce press by playing the ball quickly to the front two.
Karl Darlow’s consistency in goal has led to calls for an England call-up but the 30-year-old has a 100 per cent loss rate against the Blues, whereas injured number one Martin Dubravka has won two of five league games against the Londoners.
Few sides have suffered more injuries this season than Newcastle, and Bruce must decide whether to risk hamstring victim Wilson upfront, especially with Ryan Fraser out and Almiron returning from long-distance international duty. Teenage midfielder Elliot Anderson was withdrawn early from the Magpies’ midweek EFL Trophy win after bagging two goals and may have some involvement.
How to watch Newcastle-Chelsea
This match will be covered live by BT Sport in the UK. To find the relevant broadcaster where you are overseas, see the Premier League’s broadcast schedule pages.
Clubs have voted to suspended the pay-per-view ‘box office’ approach until the New Year at the earliest, so all Chelsea’s remaining matches in November and December will be broadcast live by existing rights holders at no additional cost to viewers.
Toon it down
‘It’s better than nothing,’ Newcastle head coach Steve Bruce said of football continuing this season, minus supporters. In St James’ Park there would normally be the hostility of 50,000 fans mostly projected towards the visiting team. How much has crowd absence affected results, though?
Throughout Premier League matches played between August 1992 and March 2020 (when the first lockdown applied) 46 per cent of results were home wins, 26 per cent draws and 28 per cent away victories. Yet in 2020/21, the hosts have prevailed in 37 per cent of games (down nine), draws are down seven to 19 per cent, and away teams’ successes have accounted for 44 per cent – a hike of 16.
Newcastle’s players have only played four games at home to date, but they show little sign of missing the Gallowgate chorus. They have accrued six points so far (two wins, two defeats), more at this stage than any since the seven in 2017/18 following their most recent promotion.
Winter is coming
In these days of lockdown, parties are in short supply. In fact, the only kind of winter ball available is the Premier League’s official football. From this weekend the Nike Flight will adopt its bright yellow winter plumage, making it more visible to players, officials and fans.
Who were the masters of hi-vis last season? Seven clubs outperformed their overall season in the 17 matches the yellow ball was used, notably Leicester (1.94 points per game, compared to 1.63ppg over the season), Sheffield Utd (1.59ppg/1.42ppg), Everton (1.53ppg/1.29ppg), and Saturday’s hosts Newcastle (1.35 ppg/1.16ppg).
In contrast the Blues were among the nine teams who underperformed over the winter months, earning 1.41 points per game compared to 1.74 overall.
|1 Liverpool||finished 1st|
|3 Manchester City*||2nd|
|4 Manchester Utd||3rd|
|6 Sheffield Utd||9th|
|(*Played one game fewer)|
The 90th anniversary of Hugh Gallacher’s epic return to Tyneside as a newly installed Chelsea player passed quietly in September. The 68,386 who made it into St James’ Park on 3 September 1930 set an attendance record for the stadium that still stands to this day.
Such was the heroic status of the 27-year-old striker among home fans that poetic eulogies were written for the occasion. This was the prolific Scot’s second game and although he again failed to open his account in royal blue, he made up for it by scoring twice in his third appearance: a 6-2 thrashing of Manchester United at the Bridge.
Premier League table
|12||West Ham United||8||3||2||3||14||10||4||11|
|16||Brighton and Hove Albion||8||1||3||4||11||14||-3||6|
|18||West Bromwich Albion||8||0||3||5||6||17||-11||3|
Premier League fixtures
Newcastle v Chelsea 12.30pm (BT Sport)
Aston Villa v Brighton 3pm (BT Sport)
Tottenham v Man City 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
Man Utd v West Brom 8pm (BT Sport)
Fulham v Everton 12pm (BBC One)
Sheffield Utd v West Ham 2pm (Sky Sports)
Leeds v Arsenal 4.30pm (Sky Sports)
Liverpool v Leicester 7.15pm (Sky Sports)
Burnley v Crystal Palace 7.30pm (Sky Sports)
Wolves v Southampton 8pm (Sky Sports)