Chelsea were beginning to build momentum and unity greater than they’d managed to muster all season long in the weeks leading up to their 1-1 draw against Huddersfield on Wednesday night.
Antonio Conte made six changes against a side fighting for their lives and was punished as his side put in a lacklustre performance from which they were lucky to even garner a point.
That means that the Italian takes his side to the north-east to face Newcastle United; an assignment on which the Blues have returned defeated on two previous occasions, looking for a response from his side.
With former Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez hoping to make it three last-day St James’ Park defeats for his old side from their three most recent 38th-match engagements against Newcastle, there are plenty of questions for him to answer.
Football FanCast have taken a look at the most pressing of those on an afternoon when, if Brighton do them an almighty favour, Chelsea could yet end up making the top four…
Chelsea have spent much of the season fighting amongst themselves while United, Tottenham and Liverpool seemingly locked off the top four spots.
But, in recent weeks, perhaps inspired by making the FA Cup final, the Blues got it together, finally reuniting behind Conte and looked the form side among the quartet behind Manchester City.
Then, Conte’s selections for the Huddersfield match slammed the handbrake on, stunting Chelsea’s forward thrust which led to a performance as lifeless as any seen at the Bridge this term.
The biggest question facing the Italian is now; how does he get that momentum back? He remains an unpopular figure at the club where there are divisions on and off the pitch, which will make his job even harder.
Another aspect that makes Conte’s job of restoring momentum much tougher is the lingering decision to take on whether or not to rest his key men ahead of their Wembley date with United.
He could play his best team in an attempt to play them into form and make Jose Mourinho – who has already revealed that he will make changes on the final day – worry with a big win.
Alternatively, knowing that the top four is all but off the table now, he could preserve his big hitters to avoid the risk of any of them meeting the same fate as Laurent Koscielny, Joe Gomez or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who will all now miss the World Cup to boot.
Yet, imagine the scenario where Liverpool lose but a weakened Chelsea fail to capitalise…
Conte has inadvertently made his Sunday task a shade easier as Kenedy, who has impressed since arriving on Tyneside in January from Stamford Bridge, is ineligible to play against his parent club.
Jacob Murphy may deputise and his pace will be a threat alongside the passing of Jonjo Shelvey, the directness of Matt Ritchie and the craft of Ayoze Perez.
The Spanish forward offers a goal threat as well as quality in between the lines; N’Golo Kante – if he isn’t rested – will likely be asked to detail him but it won’t be an easy afternoon for the Frenchman.