Chelsea may have begun to get their season back on track with three straight wins, but manager Jose Mourinho remains in fractious mood ahead of Saturday’s trip to Newcastle United. After three defeats in their opening five fixtures, Chelsea have started the Champions League and Capital One Cup with victories, and last weekend beat Arsenal 2-0 in the Premier League.
The clash between the London rivals was a heated and controversial one, resulting in a fallout that has continued in the intervening week. The central incident was a clash between Chelsea striker Diego Costa and opposing defender Gabriel, which led to the Arsenal defender receiving a red card. Gabriel has since had his sanction overturned -- although he has admitted a charge of improper conduct for failing to leave the match promptly enough -- while Costa has been banned for three games for an altercation with Laurent Koscielny that prompted Gabriel’s intervention.
And when asked about the pressure currently on Newcastle Untied manager Steve McClaren, Mourinho couldn’t resist bringing the subject back to the match with Arsenal and, even without mentioning him by name, his ongoing feud with their manager, Arsene Wenger.
“I think in this country, only one manager is not under pressure,” Mourinho said at his pre-match press conference. “Steve is under pressure, I am under pressure, Brendan [Rodgers], [Manuel] Pellegrini -- everybody is under pressure. We cannot lose matches, we cannot be below expectations, we have to reach our objectives.
“I have sympathy with them, and I believe they have also sympathy to myself because it's a difficult job. There is one that for some reason is outside that list. Good for him.”
“He can speak about the referees before the game, after the game, he can push people in the technical area, can cry in the morning, can cry in the afternoon and nothing happens. Cannot achieve, keep the job, still the king. It's a privilege.”
Mourinho, though, will still have his own concerns. Despite their upturn in form, Chelsea go into Saturday’s fixture sitting 15th in the Premier League and a full eight points off first-placed Manchester City. Still, it is not nearly as bleak as the current situation at St James’ Park.
After narrowly escaping relegation last season, under-fire owner Mike Ashley invested significantly in the Newcastle squad. Yet, under new manager McClaren, they have taken just two points through their first six Premier League matches. And things took a further turn for the worse in midweek when going down at home to Championship side Sheffield Wednesday. McClaren, though, has appealed for time to turn the club around, while warning that there is no quick fix.
“We're going through change, and change is painful,” he said, according to the club’s official website. “This Club and this team has won five games in 32. Everyone has been clamoring for change -- that's what we're doing and that's why we're here.
"We have to change a lot; philosophy, culture, standards, training and some people adapt quickly to that and some don't, but it's necessary.
It won't be easy and it won't happen in three months, you have to stick to your philosophy and that's what we're doing and the players are buying into that.”
One of Newcastle’s many problems so far has been the lack of a cutting edge up front, which has seen them score just three times in their first six league fixtures. It will comes as some relief to McClaren, then, that his attacking options will be boosted by the return from a three-match suspension of striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Prediction: Rather implausibly, Newcastle have won their last three matches against Chelsea at St James’ Park. It would be a huge surprise, though, were that record to be extended on Saturday. There is quality in the Newcastle side, but the togetherness and intensity has been worryingly lacking so far. And, while Chelsea are still some way from returning to the form of this time last season, they should have more than enough to capture the three points.
Predicted score: Newcastle United 0-2 Chelsea
Kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: NBC
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra