Saturday, August 25, 2012

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United preview

It seems like an eternity since Chelsea were last top of the league under Carlo Ancelotti. Chelsea are now European Champions managed by a different Italian manager, Roberto di Matteo. Despite Chelsea scoring six goals in their first two matches, they still look like a team in transition, and some might say the clear direction of the team is still not obvious at this early stage.

After wins against Wigan and Reading, now comes Chelsea's first real test, as Newcastle come to Stamford Bridge. Eden Hazard has set the pulses racing, and this could be the first game in which fellow new signing, the Brazilian prodigy Oscar gets a start. It really is going to be interesting to see the two talented youngsters grow, as along with Juan Mata, the trio are expected to form the attacking axis of the team behind Fernando Torres.

Chelsea's defensive frailties were exposed by Newcastle a few months ago, courtesy of two magnificent strikes by Papiss Demba Cisse. It might be a tough ask for the Senegalese forward to repeat the trick this time around, as he played in Newcastle's Europe League game in Greece just two days ago. The key weapon for the Magpies in this game could well be Hatem Ben Arfa. Ashley Cole hasn't started the season well, and if Ben Arfa gets the better of him, Demba Ba and possibly Cisse in the later stages of the game could benefit.

Newcastle might genuinely expect to be superior in midfield through the industry of Cheick Tiote, the craft and guile of Yohan Cabaye, and the sheer running ability and subtle creativity of Jonas Gutierrez. On the other hand, Hazard and Ramires could expose Davide Santon and James Perch through a combination of trickery and smart movement.

With both teams fatigued, and the defences suspect, it could end up being a game filled with mistakes, yet with no shortage of drama. A repeat of last seasons win is unlikely for Newcastle, while Chelsea are not yet the finished product. All signs point to an entertaining score draw.