CHELSEA travel to Newcastle United on Saturday aiming to show the Toon that they are still just up and coming pretenders, rather than the real deal.
The Toon were expected to make steady progress up the table after their controversial Saudi takeover 13 months ago – but they are showing signs of racing way ahead of even their own timeline.
Despite new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly’s £250million summer splurge, his side sit six points and four places beneath high-flying, third-placed Toon.
The Blues are still trying to get to grips with new manager Graham Potter‘s methods, with the former Brighton boss playing tinkerman with his line-ups and formations.
The 44-year-old has built from the back – with the Toon possessing the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League this term, conceding just 11 times in 14 matches so far.
Howe has built a cohesive, consistent defensive unit in Nick Pope, Kieran Trippier, Fabian Schar, Sven Botman and Dan Burn – something Chelsea fans must crave at the moment.
The Blues have leaked FIVE more goals than the Toon have – with a combination of key injuries and ever-shifting personnel causing issues at the back.
Kepa Arrizabalaga and Edouard Mendy have played musical chairs in goal, Reece James and Ben Chilwell have picked up devastating injuries, and £62million new boy Marc Cucurella has had to switch between wing-back, left-back and centre-back.
In the Blues’ latest blow, boss Potter saw his side crash out of the League Cup after they were beaten 2-0 by Manchester City in mid-week.
And he expects yet another tricky away trip to round off this pre-World Cup chunk of the season on Saturday.
After the Etihad defeat, Potter said of the Toon: “They have had a fantastic season so far.
“Eddie’s done a great job there and they will be pumped and ready for us because that’s the nature of the Premier League and how they have started the season.
“We have to perform like we did tonight and learn a few little lessons and try and take another step forward. If we can do that then we can go there and get a result.”
Potter possesses a mixed early record with the West Londoners thus far, winning seven, drawing three and losing three of his first 13 matches in charge.
Should his side lose this weekend they would fall NINE points behind Newcastle in the table – and would likely be out of the European places altogether at Christmas.
After brutally sacking Tuchel, Boehly appears enamoured with Potter, committed to a long-term project under the affable Englishman.
But the new regime could face its first really big roadblock should they fall to defeat this weekend.
Chelsea will likely spend big in January to try and back Potter in his first transfer window.
But, now far from being the only club with deep pockets, they will have to spend savvy.
Because Newcastle are coming, and possibly more quickly than anybody could have imagined.
Saturday’s match could see either of these sides make a huge statement, before breaking up for the World Cup.
And with Gareth Southgate under pressure going into the tournament in Qatar, FA chiefs may even be watching Saturday’s proceedings with close interest – with Howe and Potter two of England’s finest managers.
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