It is now game week with the final international break of 2023 almost at its conclusion. A daunting trip to Newcastle United beckons for Chelsea, who have shown their ability to go toe to toe with the very best in the Premier League thus far this season.
The Blues played out a 4-4 thriller with Manchester City before the two-week international break in what will surely go down as a Premier League classic. It was possibly the worst game you could have before a break because its entertainment certainly left you wanting more.
Chelsea looked a real threat offensively again, which has not always been the case this season, and they will be looking to replicate such form on Tyneside at the weekend. For Mauricio Pochettino, though, it is about finding the right balance between attacking and defending.
For all of Chelsea’s brilliance against Man City, the Blues did look suspect at the back at times. They cannot afford to do that at Newcastle in what is expected to be a hostile atmosphere at the typically loud St. James’ Park on Saturday afternoon.
Pochettino has had the opportunity to work with a small group of players over the last week or so, who either were not chosen by their respective countries or made the decision themselves to stay back at Cobham. Among them is a possible back four we could see against Newcastle.
Reece James recently returned from a two-month lay off through injury and the Chelsea captain chose to stay back with his club rather than join up with the England squad. “There are times you feel things, but all you want to do is play,” James told the club’s official website. “Then you push and realise something has happened.
“My body gave me a warning, but I didn’t listen. I’m more aware now when something is screaming, slow down a bit. I haven’t felt this good in a long time. I definitely feel my strength and fitness building up again. Recently, I’ve been able to play consistently.
“I haven’t been able to play 90 minutes yet, but I’m training and playing hard, and pushing the limits every day to get back to my best level. I’m happy to be helping the team again as well.
“After almost three months out, it takes a while to build back up and find your form again. Some people think as soon as you come back you should instantly be at the level you left at, but it doesn’t work like that. You have to move slow and steady. That’s what I have been doing. I’m slowly progressing.”
So James is extremely likely to start on the right-hand side of Chelsea’s defence at in the north east, particularly given Malo Gusto has picked up a slight knock and was forced to withdraw from the France Under-21s squad. The other three slots in defence, though, are less certain.
Thiago Silva was not selected by Brazil for this international break, meaning the 39-year-old has been working at Cobham in recent days. Benoit Badiashile, too, has been at the club’s training complex as he looks to fully recover from his lengthy injury.
Badiashile has featured just once for the Blues since returning, in the Carabao Cup win over Blackburn Rovers at the beginning of the month. Levi Colwill, though, missed Chelsea’s 4-4 draw with Man City and consequently withdrew from the England squad.
It remains to be seen whether Colwill’s shoulder injury is too serious and Pochettino will use the next few days to assess his situation. Axel Disasi, of course, has a shout as he has done for the majority of the season so far but he will not have as much time to work with Pochettino as he is representing France this week.
At left-back, it could be Marc Cucurella once again with the Spaniard impressing in recent matches. It has been a brilliant comeback from Cucurella, who looked to be on the verge of leaving the club in the summer transfer window.
It is by no means a given but there is a chance we see this back four at Newcastle. Whoever does feature, they are going to have to be at their best against a really dangerous Magpies attack.