NEWCASTLE United travel to Stamford Bridge this evening bracing themselves to lose to an “almost perfect” Chelsea.
The Blues side which entertain the Magpies in tonight’s League Cup third round tie will be unrecognisable from the one which has achieved manager Carlo Ancelotti’s target of five straight Premier League wins, and kicked off their Champions League campaign with a 4-1 win in Slovakia.
But even with stars of the calibre of Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Petr Cech expecting a night off, Chris Hughton fears the worst.
“What we are up against is a side which is the best team in the country,” the Newcastle manager (pictured left) stated. “They seem to almost have the perfect game. They are scoring goals left, right and centre and not conceding any.
“The best way to go there as a team is to not expect to win and enjoy the challenge of going up against the best team in the country. I will set my team out in a way which we will hope can get us something from the game. It is hard to stop them.”
It is very difficult to dispute Hughton’s assessment. Chelsea have a 100% record from their last ten games – a run stretching back to last season – scoring
38 goals, conceding twice. At Stamford Bridge, where tonight’s game will be played, their record is 28 goals without reply from six matches.
Newcastle are a more formidable proposition than when the draw was made three-and-a-half weeks ago, however.
They had an away record of played one, lost one, for the season – but they are undefeated on their travels since.
And while the draw was being made, United were completing the season-long loan of Hatem Ben Arfa. The 23-year-old France playmaker made a goalscoring full debut at Everton on Saturday.
Ivorian Cheik Tioté also enjoyed an impressive first appearance. Their introduction, and the improving fitness of Sol Campbell – who makes his long-awaited debut tonight – will allow Hughton to rotate his squad, as has become the norm in the Carling Cup.
“It is no different now to when the draw was made,” Hughton (pictured left) said of the task facing his men. “You knew this was going to be a game where they were going to be strong favourites and very difficult for us to win, but they are the exciting games.
“What we will do is make considerable changes from the previous league game but we are certainly in a better position, squad-wise now, than we were a few weeks ago. Alan Smith and Jonás Gutiérrez will both be involved and I have the likes of Ryan Taylor and Sol Campbell.”
James Perch is suspended after his fifth yellow card in as many games this season, although with Taylor short of match practice, his absence is a blessing.
Peter Løvenkrands and Shola Ameobi will be hoping for starts after scoring against Accrington Stanley in the previous round.
The 3-2 win at the Crown Ground remains their only starts this season, with Hughton preferring lone striker Andy Carroll in the league.
That was an extremely youthful Newcastle team, and given the quality of the opposition, it will be a stronger side for a match that will be decided on the night.
Defender Ben Tozer will not be involved but could instead play at Anfield tonight after joining Northampton Town on a month-long loan. The League Two side face Liverpool in the competition.
The 20-year-old signed from Swindon Town in 2008, but has made just one league appearance since.
Reports in Italy suggest Newcastle are preparing a £12.5m bid for Fiorentina striker Alberto Gilardino.
This seems highly unlikely given the financial constraints Hughton is working under, not to mention his assertion earlier this month that he does not plan to make any further signings this season.