Chelsea is about to get the “how do you do fellow kids” treatment from Steve Bruce. Okay, maybe that is unfair given Bruce has one of the most difficult jobs in the league, by virtue of being a super interim on paper and in practice. Newcastle has long been stagnant so Bruce has decided to mix things up lately with improved results.
First of all, Bruce is a super interim in part because it is incredibly hard to see a new owner keeping him on. That is, of course, if Mike Ashley ever actually sells and doesn’t keep talking about it. In the meantime, Newcastle is left with roughly the same team they had years ago and a manager simply told “stay up”.
Staying up shouldn’t be much of an issue for Newcastle given how conservative they traditionally play. Even Rafa Benitez understood they couldn’t fly with the big teams of the league, so they shut up shop and took their points where they could. It is ugly, effective, and utterly awful to watch. So Bruce decided to do as the kids do and mix it up with some formation changes.
The main one they have used as of late has been a 4-diamond-2 with the full steam ahead, no stop of Miguel Almiron at the tip of the diamond. The Paraguayan player has been somewhat of pariah under Bruce, but this recent switch has allowed the former Atlanta United super star to shine. What he might lack in sharpness he makes up for in a motor that allows him to be a bit of everywhere for Newcastle on and off the ball.
Mind, this switch is recent and only helped the Toons to two victories. Everton and Southampton aren’t insignificant teams to defeat this season though which is why Chelsea will have to be careful in their approach.
Even with their changes, Newcastle doesn’t deviate much from their norm. They’ll pack it in heavy and look to counter when it is safe. Thomas Tuchel’s 3-4-3/3-4-2-1/3-4-1-2/whatever is pretty counter proof with a wide base of three defenders, but it has been lacking in penetration. Simply put, Chelsea has a ton of the ball and doesn’t do a whole lot with it.
Newcastle will be yet another opponent in a long run of opponents that defend first and ask whether they can attack later. Chelsea under Tuchel has won these matches (other than Wolves) but it is hard to disguise the goals have been a bit dry. Since Tuchel arrived, only two attackers have scored in Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham (surprise, Cobham saves the day again). The remaining four goals have come from penalties and defenders finding themselves in unusual positions.
That could work again but Newcastle will have plenty of game footage now to catch on. Not giving up silly penalties and keeping an eye on defenders lurking in the box shuts up a lot of what Chelsea has been able to do as of late. They may find few avenues forward but a 0-0 draw would be perfectly satisfactory for Bruce and his Toons.
Tuchel should have plenty of practice against teams like this now, not only at Chelsea but throughout his entire time in France. Getting through Newcastle is doable, but the Blues will have to show more edge and sharpness than they have thus far.