After seeing their brief turnaround in form stopped by a 2-0 defeat to Southampton, Newcastle entered the international break with a lot less optimism.
The Magpies held high-flying Wolves to a draw at Molineux, before picking up their most impressive result of the season when they took down Everton 2-1 at St James’ Park.
But that loss to the Saints stopped Steve Bruce’s side in their tracks, and with Chelsea on the horizon on Saturday, Newcastle have got a tall order to get things going again.
One man who has faded out of first-team contention in recent weeks, is Isaac Hayden. After starting and completing the full 90 minutes in each of the Tyneside club’s first four Premier League games of the season, Bruce has slowly eased him out, with the midfielder even failing to come off the bench in two out of the last three matches.
But with a free-scoring Chelsea team – they head into the game as the division’s top goal-scorers with 20 – Hayden’s extra defensive nous is surely needed.
The Magpies’ duo of Sean Longstaff and Jeff Hendrick got completely overrun in the engine room as Southampton came away with a 2-0 win a couple of weeks ago, and having a bit of protection to the back four could go a long way to making sure Chelsea don’t just carve open Newcastle’s defence with ease.
It was Hayden and Longstaff’s partnership in a 2-1 win over Manchester City back in January 2019 that led to Pep Guardiola admitting that his side “could not deal with Newcastle’s holding midfielders”.
The pair can cover the ground well, and Hayden’s ability to read the game and shield the defence – he averaged 1.9 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per match in the Premier League last season – will be absolutely vital to Bruce.
Dropping Hendrick – who had a nightmare whilst on international duty with Ireland – and bringing the £9m-rated Hayden in, could be the key to picking up a huge result at the weekend.