The FA Cup returns this weekend and Chelsea vs Newcastle stands out as the headline clash, not least because it’s just one of three meetings between two Premier League sides. The Blues boast a solid record against the Magpies at Stamford Bridge, winning the last five meetings in west London.
But the reigning champions are enduring a run of poor form, winning only one of their last seven, and we all know how potent a dose of FA Cup magic can be. So, will Chelsea bring that stream of disappointing results to an end this weekend, or will they come unstuck against Rafa Benitez’s boys?
This week’s expert, Llion Carbis from Chelsea FanCast, shares his thoughts and predictions ahead of the 1.30pm kickoff…
It’s been a difficult 2018 so far at Stamford Bridge, as tensions behind the scenes appear to have affected performances on the pitch. Chelsea have drawn five of their last seven games, had to scrape their way through the Third Round by beating Norwich on penalties in a replay and were eliminated from the League Cup by Arsenal on Wednesday night, producing another unconvincing performance in the process.
Do you now see the FA Cup as Chelsea’s priority competition?
Llion: “Without a doubt. Manchester City have been utterly sensational in the league this season, and it would require a miracle from our perspective to be considered contenders for the title. I believe that’s why the defeat to Arsenal was incredibly frustrating; supporters recognised that the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup represented our best chance of winning silverware this campaign.
“That said, Conte’s record in cup competitions doesn’t evoke optimistic thoughts. Additionally, we lost at Wembley in the FA Cup final and the Community Shield. Here’s hoping that Conte can conclude his cup drought this season.”
The FA Cup usually means opportunities for young players and that’s certainly been the case at Chelsea this season, despite their reputation for failing to bring exciting youngsters up to first-team standard. The Blues’ two Third Round ties with Norwich saw Ethan Ampadu, Charly Musonda, Dujon Sterling and Kenedy all feature, although the latter has coincidentally since joined Sunday’s visitors on loan for the rest of the season.
Are there any Chelsea youngsters you’re desperate to see get a chance against the Magpies?
Llion “Naturally, as a Welshman, I’d love to see Ampadu feature for the sixth time this season. On every occasion he’s played for us, he’s seemed exceedingly assured, and he’s clearly comfortable with the ball at his feet. Additionally, I’d love to see Charly Musonda who made such a purposeful impact with his cameo against Brighton in the league.
“Considering that Conte spoke about him in the press this week, it would be a tremendous experience for Dujon Sterling to play against Premier League opposition. That is if the manager is willing to trust the youngster, which hasn’t always been the case this term.”
When looking at the differences between Chelsea this season and last term, the use of 3-5-2 really stands out. Although the modification on the 3-4-3 from last season has mostly been reserved for high-quality opponents, the statistics show that they’ve averaged less goals scored, more goals conceded and less wins while using it in the Premier League.
Which setup would you like to see on Sunday?
Llion: “Personally, I’d like to see the 3-4-3 formation being deployed by Conte. It gives us far more mobility and creativity in attack. We’re often guilty of being too narrow when playing the 3-5-2 strategy, which places greater emphasis on the wing-backs to join the attack.
“When utilising the 3-4-3 formation the additional pressure (that the wing-backs shoulder) is negated, as natural wingers are present to help orchestrate the attack. Given Alvaro Morata’s back problem, it might be more appropriate to use Michy Batshuayi in a 3-4-3 formation as opposed to the 3-5-2 system, where there is a greater onus on the attackers to create.”
While Chelsea are the firm favourites for Sunday’s game, even in light of their recent downturn in form, Newcastle shouldn’t be underestimated. The Magpies have won three of their last seven games and only lost twice in that time – both defeats at the hands of Manchester City. Likewise, Benitez knows a thing or two about grinding out result at Stamford Bridge, and the Magpies will take inspiration from a shock 4-3 win over the Blues in west London in the 2010/11 League Cup.
Which Newcastle player is capable of causing Chelsea the most damage?
Llion: “I think that Matt Ritchie is a player that could potentially threaten us if he’s granted the space to innovate. I recall being astonished at his decision to leave Bournemouth. However, he enjoyed a particularly fruitful spell last season, and while he’s failed to emulate his goal-scoring standards this term, he still possesses the capability to cause problems.
“In a Newcastle team that has been mainly devoid of creativity, the Scotsman has amassed the highest number of assists. He’s highly regarded for his proficiency at set-pieces, and his crossing ability is excellent.”
And finally Llion, let’s hear your score prediction…
Llion: “I’m going with 3-0 Chelsea.”