Possible line ups and formations
Defend from the front
As you can see from the chalkboard below from Chelsea’s last away game at Bolton, Cech plays the majority of his passes onto his central defenders. 25 out of the 34 passes he took were played short – the reason why Petr Cech has the best pass completion rate for a goalkeeper in the Premier League (71.9%). Despite Tim Krul seeing the ball more often (Krul 425 v Cech 363), Krul’s pass completion rate is a lowly 39%. The chalkboard below shows that Krul will play it long each time with little success.
As Chelsea opt to keep the ball and pass from the back, Newcastle’s strikers can close Terry and Luiz quicker to disrupt their flow and with Cabaye and Guthrie closing down on Chelsea’s midfield to limit their options.
Exploiting Chelsea’s high back line
With Andre Villa-Boas taking his offensive and high pressing from Porto to Chelsea, a lot has been made about Chelsea’s back four failing to effectively defend their high line of defence. Against Arsenal, Chelsea struggled with the pace of Van Persie, Gervinho and in particular, Theo Walcott. With Ashley Cole and Ivanovic pushing up the field as attacking full backs, it gives the opportunity for Newcastle’s wide men to use their pace to get in behind the Chelsea defence.
One possible weak link in the heart of the Chelsea defence is the erratic David Luiz. Compared to John Terry, his defending statistics has been poor this season. David Luiz has been found lacking in ground duels (51% won v 66% Terry) and in aerial duels (56% won v 72% Terry). With this in mind, it would be better if Leon Best, who has a better success rate in aerial duals than Demba Ba (48% v 34%) and has a better defensive work rate, to pair himself up against David Luiz.
Any potential aerial duels where Best can win the ball in the air and flick the ball behind into space behind Chelsea’s defence, will allow Ben Arfa and Obertan to exploit space behind the back four. This tactic proved fruitful against Stoke, as Best flicked the ball on for Obertan, who then crossed for Ba to score Newcastle’s opening goal.
Ramires chasing, Romeu protecting the back four
An interesting battle will be Cabaye and Guthrie in the middle versus Ramires and Meireles – in particular, Brazilian Ramires who has played well as of late. Both players like to close down play very quickly and Ramires did well against Karl Henry last week and Charlie Adam the week before, ensuring that Adam did not have time and space on the ball to influence the game. Last week, Ramires won all three tackles against Wolves and overall he averages about 2 interceptions per game. Chelsea will most likely adopt the same tactic to limit Cabaye and Guthrie time and space to pick out passes.
Highly rated Spanish midfielder Oriol Romeu made his first start against Wolves and played well. Sitting just in front of the back four, he made the most interceptions in the team (4), most touches of the ball and had the best pass success rate (93%) – all traits learned from his time in Barcelona.
Mata and Sturridge cutting inside
Similar to his Spanish counterpart, David Silva at Manchester City – Juan Mata will start on the left hand side, but has the freedom to roam around the pitch, as denoted by the chalkboards below. If Simpson follows Mata inside, this will give space for Ashley Cole to make his runs into. Gabriel Obertan will have to ensure that he covers that right flank defensively and be able to effectively use the space left behind by Cole’s forward runs.
Daniel Sturridge, naturally a striker, has been adopted as a right winger to suit Chelsea’s formation and playing style. His pace will cause Ryan Taylor problems and as he is predominately left footed, he will cut in and attempt shots on Krul’s goal. Coming onto Taylor’s stronger foot, could it be a blessing in disguise?
It will be an intriguing contest, as Chelsea look to bounce back after a set of poor results, but will be buoyed by their performance against Wolves. Newcastle have played well so far in their ‘big test’ with good performances against the Manchester clubs and will be looking to take all three points at St James’s Park.