Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am posting this from the waiting line on a ferry dock. This post will see a couple of cosmetic changes as I can grab the time to make the changes: I'll add the twitter quotes from Graham and the lineups, among other things.
During Newcastle United's stunning start to the 2011-12 Premier League season, the rallying cry for those who felt that the Toon were residing far above their station was: "Yeah, but they haven't played anybody." No similar claim can be made this year, however. After coming through their first match of the year v. Tottenham Hotspur with three points (and doing well enough away v. Atromitos Thursday evening), they now face European club champions Chelsea.
While Chelsea are no longer the poster boys for the Sugar Daddy Movement of Football Ownership (Manchester City and Sheikh Mansour, of course, having taken that particular mantle), they have added some players who are showing in early returns to have been excellent investments. The name on the tongues of Chelsea supporters at this early point of the season is Eden Hazard. Chelsea won the race for his signature over the summer, and he has hit the ground running, generally bossing play in their midweek match v. Reading and sporting a 100% record of earning penalties (2 earned in 2 matches). Hey... remember how we joint-led the Premier League last year in penalties conceded?
Newcastle supporters will almost never look at a Chelsea fixture these days and say to themselves "Well... that's 3 points for us done and dusted." or even "Well... that's a good point on the road." Few, however, will have forgotten this particular result and the manner in which it was achieved (link Papiss 2 - 0 Chelsea video) - which serves exemplar that, on their day, this current Newcastle United look like they can play with anybody. Of course, a result such as 5-0 away to Spurs reminds us that we are, in fact, Newcastle United and not immune from the whimsies of the football gods.
For their part, Chelsea seem to be fans of the current Toon squad (if you believe the "rumors" that fly around in the transfer window) as they have been linked with half of our starting XI including at one point or another: Tim Krul, Cheik Tiote, Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba, and Papiss Cisse. We do also know that our very own SBN Soccer fearless leader Graham MacAree is scared of anything to do with Papiss Cisse (link tweet), up to and including the Toon's flight to Greece (link tweet). With Papiss Cisse having played a fairly large role in Greece on Thrusday, I have to wonder about exactly how much involvement he will have at Stamford Bridge.
There are not going to be many matches in the Premier League where I don't feel good about our midfield match-up, and this is one of them. On a very paper level, the 5-some of Ramires, Eden Hazard, Jon Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard and Juan Mata scares the crap out of me. (/changes underwear, resumes typing) and it doesn't make me feel any better that Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye are struggling for fitness. I could see this going very very poorly for us even if we do get Tiote and Cabaye in the center of the park... I don't even want to think about what it will look like if Amalfitano and Bigi or Abeid or Vuckic or Gosling have to try to deal with the midfield of Chelsea. Although on paper the formation that they played against Reading looks a bit like a 4-5-1, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata have license (in particular) do anything they want, really and I'm not confident that our stand-ins would be capable of tracking those two without leaving considerable gaps and problems for our back line. If Captain Colo misses out... whoo boy.
Corollary to the Mata/Hazard factor, however, is the idea that as they move around and do their thing, they may sometimes leave their own defenders a little exposed. This is another time that having Yohan Cabaye on the field and effective would be helpful. His vision and ability to execute a pass would undoubtedly be our first best option to try to attack anything that might appear through Hazard and Mata's movement. That's not to say that I don't feel a stand-in player would be able to produce some of those passes, but think you would be counting on a lot of composure from players with little EPL experience in a very difficult situation.
I'm not going to kid you. If we walk out with a point from Saturday (and by extension end up with 4 points from our opening fixture salvo of Spurs and Chlesea) I will be one extremely tickled Mag. My inner optimist, however, went on a bender and couldn't report to work this weekend.
Chelsea 3 (Lampard, Torres, Terry) - 1 (Ba) Newcastle United