Chelsea talking tactics: Watch out for speedy Newcastle counter-attack

A trip to Newcastle United is the next test for Chelsea, but what’s to be expected from a side that’s been inconsistent so far?

Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United have had an up-and-down start to this campaign. A league record of three wins, two draws, and three losses explains that even without looking into their performances and results in much detail.

But despite the Magpies arguably not playing the most attractive football, it’s been effective in capturing some eye-catching results. Of note, a 1-1 draw away at Tottenham Hotspur and a 2-1 win over early high-flyers Everton jump out. It’s against the so-called “smaller” sides where Newcastle have struggled, such as a 3-0 home defeat to Brighton.

That could be to do with their counter-attacking style of play. While they don’t enjoy much possession in games, (they have not recorded more than 47 percent in a league game this season, but achieved that twice at home to Brighton and Burnley) the Magpies work hard off the ball to keep sides quiet and where they want them to be if possible, in front of their final third.

With the pace of Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin, their counter-attack can be deadly, and one thing that is not inconsistent about Steve Bruce’s side is their determination and desire. Therefore Chelsea must approach this with caution to avoid being caught out at St James’ Park, like we were last season, losing 1-0 in the 94th minute to an Isaac Hayden header.

While Newcastle started the season with a back four, of late they’ve been playing five at the back, and it’s had mixed fortunes for them. Steve Bruce first notably switched to five for the 1-1 draw at Spurs, and was fairly effective at keeping clear-cut chances for the home side to a minimum. Bruce reverted back to a four for the Burnley game, which the Magpies won 3-1, but were thrashed 4-1 by Manchester United when sticking to that.

Bruce then switched to five again at Wolves, which earned them a 1-1 draw, and kept it for the Everton game, which the Magpies won 2-1. They stuck to the five in their last game at Southampton too, but lost 2-0 and registered just four shots throughout the game. It seems that back five is effective against the so-called “bigger” teams.

With that in mind, like in that last two league games against Burnley and Sheffield United, it’s likely Chelsea will have to be patient while enjoying the majority of possession. Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic are likely to miss out, as is Thiago Silva, with question marks over Ben Chilwell too. But the in-form Hakim Ziyech will provide creativity, so that area should not be too much of a problem for the Blues. It’s the defensive side Chelsea may need to watch with Silva likely to be out.

They’ll have to stay switched on at all times to keep Callum Wilson quiet, who is without doubt the biggest threat for Newcastle going forward, having already scored six and recording an assist in the first eight league games. Him and Saint-Maximin have been playing up front in a two, and their pace in behind could hurt us. But keep them quiet, and it’s likely Chelsea can come back from the long trip up north with all three points. After all, Newcastle have only kept one clean sheet in the league this season, and that was in the opening day win at West Ham.