2. Does Steve Bruce bring the press?
Chelsea’s unquestionable Achilles heel is dealing with a high, intense press. You don’t have to look any further back than Barnsley on Thursday to see just how thoroughly the Blues can be bamboozled by organized pressure. If a team sits off, Chelsea looks like the best team in the world. The moment they start pushing upfield, things collapse into disaster.
Newcastle is decidedly not a pressing side. In fact, it seems almost allergic to the opponent’s half of the field when out of possession. At their best, the Magpies are the classic “sit deep and hope to hit them on the counter” bottom-half side. If that’s how Bruce decides to approach the match against Chelsea, the Blues will gladly oblige. Things could get a bit sketchier though if Bruce throws a curveball and instructs the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron to press the daylights out of Chelsea’s back line. With no Thiago Silva to instruct the players around him, it won’t take much to throw the Blues’ build-up play into disarray. If ever there was a time for Bruce to take a hard left turn away from his usual philosophies, this would be it.
To be fair, the Blues did seem to sort themselves out a bit in the second half against Barnsley by switching to a back four at halftime. Whether that was a real solution to the problem or just a temporary band-aid to get through that particular match is up for debate, but it was encouraging to see Tuchel make a change that turned the tide in Chelsea’s favor. You would hope that such an intervention wouldn’t be necessary against a floundering Newcastle side, but it’s good to see that willingness to shake things up if something isn’t working.
So, Bruce has a choice to make. Press from the get-go and try to catch Chelsea out before Tuchel can adapt, or do his usual thing of sitting back and absorbing pressure while looking for one moment to fashion a chance. Chelsea will be hoping for the latter, but it at least looks like they might be capable of handling the former. The first five minutes of the match will make it very obvious which route Bruce has chosen; the next five will show how Chelsea will fare against it.