LONDON – It is uncommon for a Chelsea manager to spend a large part of his press conference praising a team who were less successful than the Blues in the past decade, but that was what happened on Friday.
Graham Potter’s side travel to Newcastle United on Saturday for their last Premier League clash before the World Cup break, and the Englishman admitted that he admired his counterpart and compatriot Eddie Howe for his good work at Tyneside.
“I think Eddie has done a fantastic job. He’s improved the players there and have spent some money to reinforce the team. I could speak for half an hour about how good I think Eddie is, I have huge admiration for him. The club is moving forward,” said Potter.
“They’ve got results and got results deservedly. That builds confidence and momentum.”
Chelsea will be hoping to bounce back from two straight league defeats and their 2-0 League Cup third-round loss to Manchester City in midweek.
Potter could not have picked a worst possible time to face the Magpies, who are soaring in third place in the standings.
The Blues, meanwhile, have not won in four consecutive Premier League games, the last two being losses to Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal, and have dropped to seventh in the table. They have 21 points after 13 matches, while Newcastle have 27 from 14.
But if there is any reason for optimism, Chelsea won their last four league meetings with Newcastle, including a 3-0 win at St James’ Park in October 2021. But Howe’s men are a completely different side this time.
“Everybody will feel better if you can get the three points (to head into the World Cup break) but we know Newcastle will also be fighting for them,” Potter added.
He will again be missing the injured N’Golo Kante, Wesley Fofana, Ben Chilwell and Reece James.
Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is also a doubt after injuring his foot, while Jorginho may not be risked.
Riding high in third place, Newcastle might lament the World Cup break more than most as they step up their bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Howe’s side maintained their momentum on Wednesday when Nick Pope’s penalty shoot-out heroics sealed a League Cup third-round win against Crystal Palace.
A St James’ Park record League Cup crowd of 51,660 watched as they extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 10 games – Newcastle have won their last four league games – ahead of Chelsea’s visit up north.
Funded by their Saudi owners, Newcastle, who are a point ahead of fourth-placed Tottenham, are primed to muscle their way into the Premier League elite.
“We’re hopeful to continue our good form and know it will be a really difficult game,” said Howe, who also had kind words for his opposite number.
“I really like Graham and tactically his teams always give a lot of problems. The crowd will play a part and they’ve been a big weapon for us.”
The Magpies will be missing Alexander Isak, Ryan Fraser, Matt Ritchie, Emil Krafth and Paul Dummett. Callum Wilson, who was called up by England for the World Cup, is facing a late fitness test. AFP