Chelsea look to stay in the mix for a top-four spot Saturday when they host Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge.
The Pensioners (4-2-2), are bracketed by upstarts Leicester City and Crystal Palace on 14 points and enter this match fifth in the table. Chelsea are just two points behind two-time champions Manchester City for second but a distant 10 adrift of reigning European victors Liverpool, who sport a 100 percent record.
Frank Lampard’s side finally showed some defensive chops ahead of the international break, conceding just one goal combined in victories over Brighton and Hove Albion and Southampton. It was a welcome sight for the first-year Blues boss, whose side had conceded two or more goals in five of their first six league matches.
Lampard also weighed in on potential changes to the Champions League and European football format, feeling that the status quo works for the moment because the fixture list is already too congested.
“As a manager I actually feel weight of games more than I did as a player, even though I was running around as a player,” he said at a European Club Association meeting in London according to The Telegraph. “As a manager you’re thinking about how can you keep the team fresh, and it’s a challenge with all the competitions we have now. “If you ask me can we play more European games, I personally don’t believe you can fit them in amongst our busy schedule.
Even without the club fixtures, Chelsea players were plenty busy across Europe during the international break. Striker Tammy Abraham, who shares the Premier League lead with City’s Sergio Aguero with eight goals, also committed his international future to England with his first appearance in a qualifiying match for the Three Lions.
Abraham, who also was eligible to play for Nigeria, made a late entrance in England’s 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic and did not play in their 6-0 thrashing of Bulgaria – a match in which Chelsea teammate Ross Barkley had a brace and set up a third — as Gareth Southgate’s team remained atop Group A in European qualifying with two matches remaining.
Attacking midfielder Mason Mount, who was short-listed for the Golden Boy award as Europe’s best player under the age of 21, started in the loss to the Czechs before being dropped from the first XI in the second qualifier.
Striker Olivier Giroud may have been the most productive of Chelsea’s players during the international break despite his lack of playing time in London. The World Cup winner converted a match-winning penalty for France in their 1-0 qualifying win at Iceland and gave the reigning World Cup champions a brief lead in their 1-1 draw versus Turkey.
The four points left Les Bleus in second place in Group H behind Turkey on the head-to-head tiebreaker but four points clear of Iceland with two matches remaining.
Newcastle United (2-2-4) remain a difficult side to read given their wild fluctuations. The Magpies have recorded both their victories over Big Six clubs, claiming pelts at Tottenham Hotspur and home over Manchester United, but were also discarded with ease by Leicester City late last month.
Steve Bruce’s side entered the international break on a high with their 1-0 victory over an injury-ravaged Man United club, and talisman Jamaal Lascelles believes the confidence from that win can carry over into this match as Newcastle try to win at Stamford Bridge for the first time since 2012.
“They’re a young side with not much experience in there,” the centre back told NUFC.co. “We’ve been working really hard this week and we’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a tough game but we do fancy our chances.
“We’re still going off the last game. We beat Man United at home and there’s no reason why we can’t beat Chelsea. We’ve still got the confidence from the last game and hopefully we can go and do the same job.”
Even with those two high-profile wins, Newcastle are a club lacking goals. The five they have scored in league play are better than only last-place Watford (4), and the Toons have yet to score more than once in any league contest.
Teenager Matty Longstaff, who scored the winner versus Manchester United in his senior debut, is hoping to retain his spot in the first XI alongside older brother Sean. Holding midfielder Isaac Hayden will serve the second of his three-match ban for his straight red card against Leicester City.
Newcastle have dropped seven straight in all competitions at Stamford Bridge since Papiss Cisse’s brace on either side of halftime powered a 2-0 victory. It is also Chelsea’s lone loss in 24 Premier League home matches (17-6-1) to the Toons.
(Ross Barkley photo courtesy Squawka Football official Twitter account)