Chelsea travel to Newcastle on Saturday lunchtime for their third game in seven days. Jose Mourinho celebrated his 200th match in charge of the Blues with a 2-0 win over Arsenal, having made 10 changes to the players who started against Manchester City.
Assistant coach Steve Holland told the official Chelsea website that Mourinho had asked the players to give him a headache when it comes to selecting the team to start in the North East on Saturday. The Special One should be careful what he wishes for in future as some stand-out performances from his squad players have given him plenty to think about.
Cesar Azpilicueta was singled out for praise in Mourinho’s program notes for the Manchester City game and started against Arsenal. Dubbed "Dave" by the Chelsea supporters, the right-back bagged his first goal for the Blues when, having chased the ball out from the back line, he capitalised on a defensive error from Carl Jenkinson.
Dave was one of the stars of last season for Chelsea and has seized the limited opportunities he has been afforded under Mourinho with great enthusiasm. His performance at the Emirates should see him start on Saturday.
David Luiz could also keep his place in the back four to give Gary Cahill a rest.
Luiz made five clearances and an interception against Arsenal, and although his wayward personality adds a frisson of danger to the game, there is no denying he is a world-class centre-half. John Terry will likely return to continue his fine form, while Ashley Cole should regain his place at left-back.
Mourinho has clung on to the holding pair of Frank Lampard and Ramires for the majority of games this season, but he will have been given pause for thought on that idea. Michael Essien was given license to roam against Arsenal due to John Obi Mikel’s steady presence in the centre of midfield.
Pairing Mikel with Ramires at St James’ Park would allow the Brazilian to capitalise on his attacking threat without jeopardising the defence.
Juan Mata has insisted this week in The Express that his wonder goal against Arsenal was not meant as a message for Mourinho. Despite spending a lot more time on the bench this season, the two-time Chelsea Player of the Year has performed professionally whenever he has been called upon.
There has been a lot of fuss about whether or not the playmaker will remain at Chelsea in a peripheral role with the World Cup looming large on the horizon, but Mata maintains that he is more than happy to continue developing under Mourinho and that he believes in himself more than ever (via Sky Sports.)
This attitude, along with his talent and contribution to the team, could see him return to Premier League action this weekend on the right of the attacking midfield.
Oscar will return to the No. 10 role he has excelled in so far this season, while Willian will almost certainly flank him on the left. Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle are likely to come off the bench in the second half.
Fernando Torres’ fine run of form should see him reclaim his starting spot, with Demba Ba available to face his former club as a substitute if necessary.
Mourinho has never won at St James’ Park, and Newcastle certainly pose a threat to the Blues. They held Manchester City to a 0-0 draw over 90 minutes on Wednesday before being overcome in extra time, and Chelsea will need to be wary of their speed on the counter-attack.
However, Mourinho should be able to break his Geordie hoodoo with the above XI.