Chelsea will move to the top of the Premier League if they can secure a victory over an ailing Newcastle United side at St James’ Park in Saturday’s early Premier League kickoff. With table-toppers Arsenal having to take on third-placed Liverpool later in the day, Chelsea’s stay at the top could well be longer than just a few hours.
Recent form certainly makes Chelsea strong favorites to get the three points in the North East. After a less than flourishing start to Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge at Stamford Bridge, there are now strong signs that his philosophy is melding more coherently with the players he has inherited. Still, despite six wins on the bounce, Chelsea have not yet hit top gear. That, though, may be more of a worry for the rest of the Premier League than for Mourinho.
What the players have certainly fully brought into under Mourinho is the devotion to the cause. Much has been made of Jose Hart’s error, but Chelsea’s late winner against Manchester City last Sunday wouldn’t have happened had Fernando Torres not been chasing down a seemingly hopeless ball in the closing minutes.
It is Torres who is arguably Mourinho’s greatest success story thus far. It is far too early to talk for the umpteenth time of Torres being back -- with back implying the devastating form he showed for Liverpool between 2007 and 2009 -- but he is certainly better than the pale imitation that has moped around since his £50 million transfer.
Chelsea also showed a determination to win that was largely absent in their opponents in their Capital One Cup victory over Arsenal at midweek. More impressive was that the individuals relegated to the fringes of the first team played with a keenness to impress rather than a chip on their shoulder. Juan Mata, scorer of a superb second goal, embodied that attitude.
Newcastle’s attitude could also not been questioned while on League Cup duty, yet Alan Pardew’s side had only a 2-0 defeat to show for their efforts after toiling for 120 minutes against Newcastle. On the back of an agonizing derby defeat to Sunderland at the weekend, Pardew faces a challenge to lift his players mentally as well as physically.
Indeed, their record now stands at four losses from their last seven matches in all competitions. While they sit a respectable 11th in the Premier League, with just three points separating them from the drop zone and another tough match coming against Tottenham next week, talk of a crisis at a club that has repeatedly invited it in recent years could be around the corner.
Of immediate concern for Pardew will be his less than stellar options up front. Papiss Cisse has just one goal to his name this season and just eight Premier League goals in his last 44 appearances. Against Manchester City, the Senegalese front man failed to take advantage of two clear chances that would have given his side a win they arguably deserved in the 90 minutes. Wide forward Loic Remy will return against Chelsea, but the fact that he has scored five of Newcastle’s 12 Premier League goals this season is a concern. Mourinho will doubtless be aware that shutting Remy and creative inspiration Hatem Ben Arfa down dramatically limits Newcastle’s forward threat.
Things are as worrying for Pardew at the other end of the pitch too. A far from resolute backline with everyone fit, Paul Dummett and Massadio Haidara suffered injuries against City to join first-choice center-backs Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor on the sidelines.
There is little to suggest then that Newcastle can repeat their come-from-behind victory in the same fixture last season. Instead, another three points and the top of the table, from which they could require some shifting, awaits Chelsea.