Updated: Nov 20, 2020
The international break - that long and unnecessary fortnight of COVID-transmitting friendlies - is almost over and we can get back to enjoying the football. Well, to watching the football: enjoyment sold separately.
It has been a fortnight of drama as it was announced that Amazon Prime will be putting one of the North East’s most divisive figures on our televisions. Some call him a charlatan and a fraud while others proclaim the magnificent things he has done for Newcastle United. It certainly promises to be spectacular entertainment, so don’t miss the camera crew follow Steve…Bruce to Selhurst Park on Friday 27th November.
The content of social media conversations during international break is as certain as death and taxes (insert Amazon joke here):
- Newcastle players who are of above average quality give an interview with their national media, or their agent does it for them, and social media has a meltdown at the prospect of their imminent departure.
- Newcastle fans bemoan the lack of their own players in the England squad as they watch other international players get injured, arrive back late and jetlagged or catch a deadly virus.
- Newcastle United makes an official club statement. Wait, what? Maybe death isn’t certain, after all.
The contrast between our beloved club and this weekend’s opponents was highlighted, as if we needed it to be, by the international involvement of the respective squads. Chelsea fans scanned the globe to watch the likes of Mount, Jorginho, Ziyech, Werner, Giroud and at least ten others contributing to their country’s successes with goals galore.
Meanwhile, Newcastle fans had the pride of watching Jeff Hendrick play 186 minutes against England and Wales before receiving a red card. I didn’t watch the game but presumably it was for impersonating a footballer. At least he didn't play their third game and will be well-rested to take Almirón's place in midfield on Saturday.
It seems an eternity since the Southampton game, when Newcastle successfully stopped Danny Ings from scoring against them by not facing him. I was asked on Extra Tyne why the two errors leading to goals happened and the answer I tried to give, in the brief silence afforded to me, was that our players don’t seem to know what their role is once we have the ball.
This off-the-cuff approach doesn’t matter as much in the forward areas but when players are receiving the ball in their own defensive third and the team, as a unit, don’t have a clear instruction and pattern of play then it comes down to individual decisions. Unfortunately for Newcastle, two individual decisions were extremely costly that night but these are avoidable errors when the team as a whole has a confident and competent approach to transition. Without that, a high press exposes them time and time again.
That game was horrific to watch but at least it was on Friday night and by Saturday morning I was over it and enjoyed my weekend as much as a man can in lockdown with a toddler. A Saturday teatime game at least gives you the opportunity to watch the earlier games, have a few beers and build confidence as the day (and drinking) goes on. A Sunday game has at least allowed you to enjoy your Saturday. Unfortunately, this weekend’s game is a 12:30pm kick off on Saturday and therefore likely to ruin your entire Saturday / weekend.
Of course, Newcastle at home against Chelsea has provided us with some fantastic goals and moments over the years. My neighbour still doesn’t speak to me after my celebrations for Isaac Hayden’s 94th minute winner last season and none of us will ever forget the wonder goal from Shearer as he made Marcel Desailly look like Cláudio Caçapa before ripping the Gallowgate net.
Recent years have provided many memorable games, including three wins in a row from 2012/13 to 2014/15. In fact, Newcastle have won five of the last seven encounters at St. James’ Park, drawing one and only losing once.
However, this season is not a normal season and it’s hard to imagine these successes coming without the St. James’ Park crowd’s influence. In this sterile, lifeless environment it is difficult to argue the case for a home team so comprehensively outplayed by Brighton and Manchester United (and Blackburn!) already this season.
Chelsea's wealth of attacking talent has scored fourteen goals in their last four games, in all competitions. Indeed, they are currently the top-scoring team in the Premier League with a total of twenty goals in eight matches - double Newcastle's tally.
Their dodgy Kepa has been replaced and their early season openness, in which they conceded three against both West Brom and Southampton, has unfortunately ended. Since the switch in goalkeeper and approach, Chelsea have only conceded one goal in six games.
As ever with Newcastle, my biggest concern is the central midfield and whichever combination of players Bruce chooses in that position will be inferior to Chelsea's - both in quality and possibly numerically. Chelsea played Mount, Kante and Kovacic against Sheffield United and Mount, Kante and Havertz against Burnley. If Bruce plays two in Newcastle's centre, don't expect to see much of the ball at the feet of the home side. Yes, I'm onto you, with your unrealistic expectations.
I have been wrong once or twice in my life and I hope Saturday makes it three but I don't see Newcastle getting anything out of this one, regardless of how many Chelsea players overindulged in duty-free tabs and whiskey on their travels.
Hot take: Karl Darlow's gloves will touch the ball more times than Callum Wilson's feet.
Prediction: Newcastle 0-3 Chelsea
Enjoy your Friday! Saturday is looming...