The Blues have struggled on the road this season with three defeats in seven games away from Stamford Bridge; away to Manchester City (1-0), Liverpool (2-0) and last weekends’ loss 1-0 at Birmingham City. They also failed to hit the net away to Aston Villa, as the aura of invincibility around Chelsea seems to have faded. Many thought after their confident start with their title challengers faltering that the Premier League trophy would stay in West London come the end of the season. But recent poor displays, hard hitting injuries to key players, the departure of assistant coach Ray Wilkins and reports doubting Ancelotti’s future as Chelsea manager have combined to what can been considered a mid-season ‘mini crisis’.
Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over MSK Zilina in the Champions League may be the boost the club needed on the back of a difficult period. Despite the toiling unconvincing nature of the victory over the Slovak club, only sealed by Florent Malouda’s goal in the last five minutes after an onslaught in the second half having trailed at half-time, the relief in the players’ celebration of the winning goal was clear to see. This was a game against much lesser opposition in which an upset could not be afforded; further unwanted back pages headlines would be inevitable. With games against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Arsenal to come consecutively over Christmas, Chelsea will be under pressure not to slip up this weekend again.
Their hosts’ home form has been patchy this term, with just two wins in seven games, though both were resounding victories; 6-0 over Aston Villa and 5-1 against North-East rivals Sunderland. Chelsea may have won their last two matches at the Magpies but their Premier League record at St James’ Park is not great. Seven defeats in 15 matches, including winless streaks between April 1994-January 1999 (6 games) and December 2001-May 2008 (5 games) make Newcastle an unhappy hunting ground for the visitors. In their last meeting in the North-East at the end of the 2008-09 season, the Blues returned to the capital 2-0 victors, courtesy of second-half goals from Frank Lampard and Frenchman Malouda.