Chelsea have a point to prove

Wolves’ Ruben Neves celebrates with Hwang Hee-chan in the Premier League. They will be hoping for the same when they take on leaders Arsenal today. — Reuters

CHELSEA will be as eager as ever to go to Newcastle today and win.

The Blues are coming off a couple of really dreadful results, and if you throw in the 4-1 defeat they suffered at Brighton before winning in the Champions League last week, Graham Potter’s side is in need of a lift.

This is the final round of league games before the FIFA World Cup kicks off in Qatar next week, and Chelsea would love to start the month-long break with a win.

Potter, who took over from Thomas Tuchel in early September, is beginning to feel the pressure. He started rather cautiously, and at a big club like Chelsea, that is not good enough.

But without a win in their last four Premier League games and crashing out of the Carabao League Cup at the hands of Manchester City in midweek, that will hardly be tolerated.

Thus, the young English coach needs to find some sort of form without delay. Defeat at Newcastle, who are up to third in the league standings, may yet set off the alarm bells at Stamford Bridge.

Indeed, a Magpies victory could leave Chelsea in 10th place during the World Cup break. A few results would have to go against them for that to happen, but it is possible.

What Potter needs to do is get his side to click. They need to find a cohesiveness that is sorely lacking.

Against City, they played well enough to win, but in the end, they were eliminated from the season’s first domestic cup competition.

The Chelsea squad is laden with talent; it was hand-picked and bought for a pretty penny.

Raheem Sterling, who is expected to shine for England in Qatar, has been in good form since joining from Manchester City earlier this season, but he is not yet firing on all cylinders.

The winger needs to find some sort of understanding with those around him, in particular Jorginho, Kai Havertz, Mason Mount and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Chelsea, with the exception of the Brighton game, does not concede many goals. That is because Thiago Silva, Kalidou Koulibaly and Marc Cucurella generally keep the opposition at arm’s length, with support from goalkeeper Edouard Mendy.

Against Newcastle, they will almost certainly be put to another tough test.

The Magpies have coasted into the top three while flying under the radar, just as Eddie Howe would want it.

But one has to admit that this team has put in some quality performances. Their win over Crystal Palace in the Carabao Cup came by way of a penalty shootout.

Prior to that, they scored eight in two league games – they hit both Southampton and Aston Villa for four. Before that, they saw off Tottenham and Everton to ensure that they won four on the trot ahead of today’s clash with Chelsea.

The St James Park side have lost only once in the league this season. Of their 14 matches, they have won seven, scored 29 times, conceded less than a goal a game and kept six clean sheets.

Those are the kinds of statistics that any manager would be proud of in the Premiership, and that’s why they start the game today with heavy backing to give Chelsea more headaches.

But with both sides determined to win for different reasons, it could turn out to be a score draw.

Newcastle will surely look to Miguel Almirón to deliver upfront. The Paraguayan midfielder-striker has eight goals to his credit in the league alone and has been on target in each of their last four Premier League outings.

It might be safe to say that if Chelsea want to stop Newcastle in their tracks, they might want to stop Almirón from roaming around too freely.

England international Nick Pope was the star on Tyneside in midweek when he kept out three penalties in the shootout.

He could well feature prominently again when Chelsea visit today. And they may yet need him as the Blues seek redemption after a brief but painful run of results.

In the other featured matches this weekend, Spurs and Leeds United will be hoping to get back to winning ways at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium today after their exits from the Carabao Cup in midweek, while Wolves welcome league leaders Arsenal and Manchester United travel to Fulham.

For Spurs, it will really be a case of saving face. The Londoners, now considered one of the Big Six in England, are in fourth place despite losing to Liverpool last week.

But their defeat at the hands of Nottingham Forest in the Carabao really stung, and Antonio Conte will want to get things back in order before they break for the World Cup.

With home advantage, they certainly have extra incentive and the opportunity to do so, but Leeds are unlikely to just roll over.

They won their two league fixtures, including the victory over Liverpool, and might view their exit from the Carabao Cup as a blessing, given that some clubs look at those fixtures as a distraction.

All the same, it could be a feisty affair when these two clash.

Wolves will welcome the Gunners with greater confidence than they would have had two weeks ago. Much of that is because Julen Lopetegui is waiting in the wings to take over as manager and in midweek, he saw them beat Leeds to make the last 16 of the Carabao Cup.

While it was not an easy victory, Boubacar Traore struck gold and fans will want more of the same. But Arsenal, who saw off Spurs last weekend, are beginning to look the real deal in their bid for the title, although not everyone is sold yet on the idea.

Notwithstanding this, they should get the better of their hosts.

Man United, who were humbled by Aston Villa last week before exacting some vengeance against Unai Emery’s new team in midweek, should easily defeat Fulham.

Erick ten Hag seems to be getting to grips with the Red Devils, and this is one game they will be expected to win, even if Fulham have shown some grit recently.

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chelsea , The Blues , EPL


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