Amid an otherwise uninspiring batch of Fourth Round fixtures, Chelsea vs Newcastle stands out as a match that could see something of an upset.
Of course, the Magpies are far more focused on maintaining their Premier League status than silverware this season but Chelsea enter Sunday’s game on the back of a run of poor form, including elimination from the League Cup at the hands of Arsenal, so a little bit of FA Cup magic could go a very long way for the visitors.
But will Newcastle defy the odds to claim an impressive win at Stamford Bridge, or will they succumb to the quality of the reigning Premier League champions? This week’s Newcastle expert, Nothing But Newcastle editor Jonnie Gorrie, shares his thoughts and predictions ahead of the FA Cup clash…
This weekend represents a real balancing act for Rafa Benitez. While he’ll want the Magpies to give a good account of themselves at Stamford Bridge, and the fans are understandably eager for a lengthy cup run, Premier League survival is the priority this season and Newcastle have a winnable game against Burnley at St. James’ Park on Wednesday night.
What strength of starting XI would you like to see from Benitez this Sunday?
Jonnie: “There isn’t a huge amount of depth in the squad, to be honest. It’s been hard for Rafa to rotate too much, due to the obvious limitations in the squad. That being said, Jamaal Lascelles must be rested. While our captain is hugely influential, as the defensive record without him shows, risking him for a cup tie before a massive game with Burnley just a few days after seems somewhat unnecessary, depressing as it is.”
The FA Cup usually brings chances for young players to impress in the first team, but that wasn’t exactly the case in the last round when Newcastle hosted Luton at St. James’ Park. The only academy product to feature in the 3-1 was goalkeeper Freddie Woodman, while fellow youngster Rolando Aarons could only watch on from the bench.
Are there any youngsters you’d like to see feature against the Blues on Sunday?
Jonnie: “I’d like to see Aarons given a chance. His finest moment in a black and white shirt came during a cup tie against bigger opposition back in 2014, though he’s struggled for form and fitness since. The likes of Matt Ritchie, Christian Atsu and Jacob Murphy will all be crucial against Burnley, so affording Aarons a chance would be a promising sight. If he can impress, he could be a major asset going forward.
“Woodman is another youngster who could feasibly start, though playing a burgeoning goalkeeper against one of the best attacks in Europe may not be the best idea, despite all the calls for his inclusion of late. We don’t want a Harry Lewis moment.”
Newcastle’s recent history at Stamford Bridge doesn’t make particularly encouraging reading. In fact, Newcastle have lost all of their last five visits to west London and have won there just twice across all competitions since the inception of the Premier League. Likewise, earlier this season, Newcastle suffered a 3-1 defeat to the reigning champions in a game that saw them manage just two shots on target and take just 34% possession.
What lessons need to be learned from the 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge in December?
Jonnie: “Understandably, Rafa Benitez set his team up very defensively in the league game, though he can perhaps afford to be a touch more expansive on Sunday. As much as we’d love a cup run, the nature of this game during this moment in time doesn’t mean it’s vitally important, so we should at least try and give the home side a game. It’s hard to underestimate the gulf in quality between the two sides, but with no Premier League points riding on it, why not try and ruffle a few feathers?”
As already alluded to, this is a pretty good time to face Chelsea by their usual standards. The FA Cup will likely be their priority competition after losing to Arsenal on Wednesday night, but they still have the top four to think about so key players will likely be rested for their midweek clash with Bournemouth. Likewise, Chelsea have begun the new year in bad form; winning once and drawing five of their last seven games; and it has lead to rumours of disputes behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge.
How should Newcastle set up take advantage of the negative atmosphere at Chelsea right now?
Jonnie: “I’d like to see a 4-3-3 including a midfield three of Mo Diame, Jonjo Shelvey and Mikel Merino. There aren’t all too many options to rotate across the side, though that’s certainly a trio fans can get behind. Diame has invoked the ire of fans for months, though his recent performances as an industrious central midfielder who can push forward on the counter have certainly been an improvement and, with the likes of Shelvey and Merino releasing the ball from deep, it could give Chelsea’ defence something to think about.”
And finally Jonnie, let’s hear your score prediction…
Jonnie: “Sadly, 3-1 to Chelsea.”