Alan Pardew must decide whether to give Luuk de Jong his full Newcastle United debut ahead of schedule today.
Chelsea will hold Fernando Torres back as he recovers from a knee injury and with Samuel Eto’o scoring seven goals in his last seven Stamford Bridge matches, Demba Ba is likely to have to settle for a place on the bench.
It is a strength in depth that has Pardew believing Jose Mourinho can win a third Premier League title and very envious. With alternatives scarce, he will find it difficult to ease De Jong into English football.
The on-loan Netherlands forward has not started a game since this summer’s European Under-21 Championships. His longest appearances since were two 20-minute run-outs for Borussia Moenchengladbach, in August and September.
De Jong made his Newcastle debut as a half-time substitute in last week’s Tyne-Wear derby, and looked unsurprisingly rusty.
But with Yoan Gouffran and Papiss Cisse not expected back until Wednesday’s visit of Tottenham Hotspur at the earliest, and Loic Remy suspended, Pardew’s only alternative up front is Shola Ameobi, who has not scored in his last 29 Premier League appearances.
“Luuk’s a player that needs game-time,” Pardew commented. “He’ll get more at Chelsea, whether he starts or not. We need to have a good look at him.”
His paucity of options stands in contrast to Chelsea’s embarrassment of riches.
Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah, a player the Magpies looked at in January, is expected to make his debut as Chelsea freshen the side which beat Manchester City on Monday.
And Mourinho can still afford to be without Ba, who has made 15 starts in the 13 months since joining the Blues from Newcastle, where he scored 29 goals in 57 appearances.
“(Mourinho) has one of my best strikers and he can’t even get in the team so he isn’t too badly off!” Pardew joked.
“I should think Demba’s frustrated too, knowing him. He’s a player who wants to play. I always liked that about Demba.
“I think he’ll be frustrated that he’s not getting a lot of football there. But he was a great player for us.”
Pardew is sceptical about Mourinho’s comment, after Monday’s 1-0 win over Manchester City closed the gap on Manuel Pellegrini’s side to two points, that his team are outsiders in a three-horse Premier League title race.
“I’m surprised Mourinho has come up with that suggestion after seeing them Monday night,” he said. “Of course they can win it.”
The Magpies manager also hinted Sylvain Marveaux could play a part having apparently been written off as a Newcastle player. Since August he has only made one start, in the League Cup, and two Premier League substitute appearances, one of which was against Sunderland last week.
Newcastle have been fined £20,000 for admitting to failing to control their players in last month’s 0-0 draw at Norwich City. Remy and Bradley Johnson were sent off, though the latter’s red card was overturned on appeal.
Norwich have been fined £30,000 because they denied the charge, their second such offence this season.
Both clubs were warned as to their future conduct.
Meanwhile, Newcastle’s route to the FA Youth Cup final was planned out yesterday.
Although the competition is only at the fifth-round stage, the draw has been made all the way to final.
Victory at Derby County earns a home tie with Cardiff City or Chelsea. The winners will be at home first in a two-legged semi-final against Charlton Athletic, Arsenal, Sheffield United or Everton.