• St James’ Park
  • Premiership
  • 5.30pm, Saturday 18/1/20
  • Live on Sky Sports

Following the visit of Rochdale in the FA Cup, it’s another quick turnaround for Steve Bruce and his team. This weekend sees the return of Premiership football, with Frank Lampard’s Chelsea the visitors.

The Blues will arrive on Tyneside in 4th spot and are currently thirteen points ahead of us. It has however, been a bit of a ‘hit & miss’ campaign for them so far. That hirsute, twisty faced old gossip, Mark Lawrenson recently talked disparagingly about them being decent ‘on their day’ but not having enough of them. And whilst I’m loathe to agree with anything pastel shirted ‘Lawro’ mithers on about, there is some truth to it.

Having had so many managers in recent seasons, they appear to be permanently stuck in a transitional period which makes it difficult to get back to the very top. They’re currently a team who can turn over the likes of Spurs away one week, then lose to Bournemouth at home the next.

Their major contributors this season have been the likes of midfielder, Pulisic and striker Tammy Abraham. The latter has thirteen goals plus three assists from twenty one played, and is really beginning to look like the real deal. He’s definitely a worry. (Rafa knew)

As you’d expect from such historically big spenders, they have quality all over the park. The likes of Kante, Jorginho, Alonso and Willian are all players we’d love to have. You know, the type of footballer we used to be in the market for, pre the charva sportswear peddler darkening our door. ‘Good, but not great – a work in progress’ would be my assessment of this current Chelsea vintage. The talent mentioned above is significant, but not in the class of teams of yesteryear, boasting Desailly, Drogba and their current dugout dweller, Frank.

What of United?

Wednesday night happily saw the return of our skipper, Lascelles and the indomitable Ritchie. This excellent news could be compounded by St Max having some involvement this weekend. We’ve missed all three in my opinion, but particularly the latter. He is probably our most dangerous player – someone who’s direct, fast and can really hurt the opposition.

The dogfight just below us is now in full effect with a previously hopeless looking Watford the latest side to put a few results together. Our poor form over Christmas means that the gap between us and third bottom, Villa is only five points. That’s too close for comfort and now makes this top four ‘free hit’ anything but.

So what’s going to happen?

Our visitors, on paper are streets ahead of us. Their form however, is patchy. As well as the loss to Bournemouth mentioned above, a resurgent (but still lowly) Southampton recently went to the Bridge and won 2-0. To counter these dreadful results, they managed a fortunate win at the Emirates, and most recently put Burnley to the sword (3-0) at home.

The Magpies stemmed the recent poor run of results (to some degree) with a creditable point at Molineux last Saturday. Ok, there was a touch of fortune involved – with us reliant on Martin making a couple of worldies, but it looked a more dogged display with plenty of backbone evident ; certainly, when compared with the likes of the recent heinous surrender at Old Trafford.

I think that the addition of the returnees mentioned earlier will give us a more solid, industrious look and our visitors will have to scrap hard for anything. I reckon AC could have a big effect (when he replaces free scoring Joe on 61), and hopefully Miggy can keep his improving form in an upward arc.

The bookies won’t agree, but I reckon we’ll get something out of this one. I’m going to plump for a battling 1-1.

HTL.

Nick Clark
@Clark5Nick