Conte must be bold to spur Blunt Blues

Chelsea manager should ditch cautious 3-5-2 against Newcastle to solve scoring problems

The worst-case scenario sounds dramatic. On Wednesday evening, Chelsea were in four competitions. By tomorrow night, their chances of silverware this season may be disappearing if they lose to Newcastle.

Their campaign would not be over, not with a Champions League clash against Barcelona beckoning and a top-four finish to secure, but exiting two domestic Cups in five days would make this one of Antonio Conte's most damaging weeks.

Because the FA Cup has assumed a new importance for Chelsea after their League Cup semi-final defeat by Arsenal. They laboured past Norwich in the third round on penalties after 210 minutes when they had more red cards (two) than goals (one). A team with a solitary victory in 2018 could do with a convincing win like the 4-0 demolition of Brighton last week, rather than stuttering as they have otherwise done this month.

Perhaps the sight of Rafael Benitez, who steered Chelsea to the FA Cup semi-finals and Uefa Cup glory in his interim regime but was nonetheless disliked for his Liverpool past, will galvanise the crowd.

Perhaps Conte will spur his players on by rediscovering positivity, on and off the pitch.

Amid a continuing struggle to sign players, the Italian has been complaining about a small squad. They could be stretched again, with Willian an addition to an injury list that has included Cesc Fabregas and Alvaro Morata.

If a lengthy and at times embarrassing pursuit of strikers has not yielded more firepower in time, Michy Batshuayi may be pressed into service when he might already have been loaned out.

  • ENGLISH FA CUP 4TH RD

  • YESTERDAY
     
    Yeovil v Man United
    Late kick-off
     
    TODAY
     
    Peterborough v Leicester
    Singtel TV Ch109, 8.20pm
     
    Middlesbrough v Brighton
    Ch109, 10.50pm
     
    Newport v Tottenham
    Ch109, tomorrow, 1.20am
     
    Liverpool v West Brom
    Ch109, tomorrow, 3.35am
     
    Wigan v West Ham
    Ch110, 10.50pm
     
    Notts County v Swansea
    Mediacorp okto, 10.55pm
     
    TOMORROW
     
    Chelsea v Newcastle
    Singtel TV Ch109, 9.20pm
     
    Cardiff v Man City
    Ch109, 11.50pm

ecause while Conte often fields a cautious 3-5-2, he really should choose a third attacker at home against unambitious opponents.

One question is just how negative Newcastle will be. Benitez was ultra-negative at Manchester City last week, playing 5-4-1, deploying midfielder Isaac Hayden as an auxiliary centre-back and having just 19 per cent of possession.

Yet a fatigued, depleted Chelsea are not as fluent as City. Newcastle need not worry about goal difference tomorrow. They will not want a replay.

They have reasons to be more expansive. And they actually took the lead at Stamford Bridge last month, before going down 1-3.

If Benitez, like Conte, is waiting for major additions, the Newcastle manager will be unable to field his first January arrival, with the Cup-tied Kenedy ineligible to face his parent club, Chelsea.

While the Blues, who have reached the last 16 in 17 of the last 19 seasons, will be favourites, Benitez can remember the dramatic consequences of FA Cup ties.

It was after a win over opponents from England's north-east, Middlesbrough, in 2013, that he launched into an outburst confirming that he would not stay at Chelsea. Now, one way or another, Conte may be in his final few months.


CHELSEA V NEWCASTLE

Singtel TV Ch109, tomorrow, 9.20pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2018, with the headline 'Conte must be bold to spur Blunt Blues'. Print Edition | Subscribe