Blues set to ruffle Magpie feathers

Posted by Mark Worrall

Buoyed by Monday night's epic 1-0 victory over Manchester City at the Etihad, Blues supporters congregating at Stamford Bridge on Saturday to watch Chelsea take on Newcastle United will be confident that Jose Mourinho's fabled "little horse" will have the prowess and stamina to see off a Magpies side currently enduring their worst run of form this season.

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Mourinho's men are unbeaten in their past nine PL games, having won seven matches since the 3-2 loss at Stoke in December, and the Special One's defence now ranks as the meanest in the league. In stark contrast, Alan Pardew's side are in free-fall. Despite having won three times in their last four meetings with Chelsea, a solitary win in their past six PL matches and a failure to score in the other five including last weekend’s humiliating 3-0 loss at home to bitter rivals Sunderland does not bode well for Newcastle.

Pardew will point to West Ham United’s recent clean sheet at Stamford Bridge and suggest that anything is possible, but given the Blues' 39 attempts on the Hammers' goal in that game, the reality is that the 0-0 final score-line was something of a miracle, and the Magpies may well need a little divine intervention if keeper Tim Krul is to keep a clean sheet against Chelsea.

Shorn of the services of their best player, Yohan Cabaye, sold last month to the highest bidder in the shape of PSG, and without suspended striker Loic Remy and the unfit trio of Cheick Tiote, Yoan Gouffran and Papiss Cisse, Pardew's starting XI will be a pale shadow of the accomplished Newcastle side that beat Chelsea 2-0 at St James' Park earlier in the season.

That result, and the below-par Blues performance that accompanied it, incensed manager Mourinho, who lamented that his team-sheet contained "11 mistakes". While revenge is not a word readily associated with the Chelsea manager, a convincing victory will help banish the bitter memory of defeat.

These days, Mourinho's backline has a settled, confident look to it. For the visit of Newcastle United, Petr Cech will keep goal, Etihad hero Branislav Ivanovic will feature on the right, Cesar Azpilicueta, once more at the expense of Ashley Cole, will be on the left and Gary Cahill will partner captain John Terry in the centre of defence.

Further forward, even though some might argue a case for the Special One retaining the same starting line-up that triumphed against Manchester City where the Blues boss fielded David Luiz and Nemanja Matic as his defensive midfield duo, with the combative Ramires ghosting on the right of Willian and Eden Hazard, the match with Newcastle presents an opportunity for Oscar to return to Chelsea's starting line-up in his customary classic No.10 role. Oscar's recall will mean a sojourn on the bench for one of Luiz, Matic or Ramires, with Frank Lampard also available to give Mourinho his only real selection dilemma.

Against a side lacking in confidence, the now-familiar creative trio of Eden Hazard, Willian and Oscar will fancy their chances of wreaking havoc. Should they be frustrated in their endeavours, Mourinho has the option of freshening things up by introducing Andre Schurrle and recent 11 pound million signing Mohamed Salah. Salah is almost certain to be given a home debut and sufficient opportunity time-wise to endear himself to the Stamford Bridge faithful, who last saw him in action rippling the Chelsea net in the shirt of his former employers FC Basel in a Champions League tie between the sides last November.

Finally, despite his return to fitness, Mourinho has stated that Fernando Torres will not be risked against Newcastle. While former Magpies striker Demba Ba is available, Samuel Eto'o should retain his place as the Blues lone forward on what is likely to be a very busy afternoon for the Magpies defence.

A resounding victory looks on the cards for Chelsea, and with it Mourinho may find it difficult to continue to play down his side's chances of winning the Premier League title. This "little horse" has all the makings of a thoroughbred.

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