If last week’s game was a rush job, Newcastle United will have no such excuses this afternoon.
Of all the times to play a Tyne-Wear derby, less than 14 hours after the winter transfer window closed was not the best.
Making tactical plans when you do not know what your team will be by the end of the week is far from ideal.
It was not just a Newcastle problem. Sunderland had the same constraints and fielded a debutant – a Premier League first-timer at that – who only joined them the previous morning. Fortunately for Gustavo Poyet, holding midfielder Liam Bridcutt knew his style of play inside out after three years together at Brighton and Hove Albion, but his new team-mates had very little time to get to know him.
Newcastle’s problem was a different one. With Joe Kinnear still in charge of transfers (a job he left on Monday), manager Alan Pardew had to wait and see if the director of football would deliver on his often unreliable promises and provide a replacement for Yohan Cabaye (right), whose £20m transfer to Paris Saint-Germain was completed in derby week. Without a like-for-like stand-in, Newcastle’s whole approach would have to change.
That, then, was one of the derby-day excuses but it will not apply today. Pardew has had seven days to coach his players in how to beat Chelsea. If the derby was a test of his motivational skills, today’s trip to Stamford Bridge will examine his tactical credentials.
“We did a lot of work on the training ground on Thursday all based around Chelsea and we did even more yesterday – although obviously it was a lighter day, we talked,” explains Pardew. “It’s all geared along those lines to make sure we put in a performance out there that represents the shirt.”
Knowing what to expect from the Blues is not difficult. During Jose Mourinho’s second coming they have rarely strayed from a 4-2-3-1 shape. The full-backs will push on, the holders will hold and the three-man three-quarter line of fantasy footballers will change positions behind a lone target man.
Knowing what is coming and dealing with it are two different things, however.
It will be a day for cool heads rather than fiery hearts. As he picks over the wreckage of last week’s 3-0 hammering, Pardew believes too many of the latter were a factor.
“I did think that on reflection,” he says. “On the day I thought we weren’t composed in areas you need to be composed in. Clearances, for example. Or being around the 18-yard box and waiting that extra half-second to make the final pass. All those moments we got wrong against Sunderland, and that happens sometimes.
“Maybe we did have a bit too much emotion on the pitch. The last defeat (to Sunderland) was the last really poor result we had as a team. Maybe that was on our minds. You can’t use that as an excuse. The attribute you have to have is how you’re going to go forward.
“I do think, though, that the timing of that game was difficult for us because of the Cabaye loss and our tactical gameplan.
“We are looking for something different and I have to get that in play as quickly as I can.”
The previous derby defeat, in October, was quickly buried under some good news. The next league game was at home to Chelsea and to the surprise of many, Pardew pulled off a 2-0 win, his third in four games over the Londoners but his first over Mourinho.
To outdo the Portuguese will have given Pardew immense satisfaction. “Of course, he walks on water,” Pardew says of Mourinho.
But while Newcastle’s manager is full of admiration for the former Real Madrid and Inter Milan coach, they are not bosom buddies.
“It’s a professional relationship,” Pardew says. “I don’t go out for dinner with him. I don’t buy him wine or drinks. I admire him because of what he’s done in the game.
“But the most important thing is when I stand next to him on Saturday I’m not having any friendship with him. He knows that. I want to beat him. At the moment this (season) it’s 1-0 to me!”
The way he dismantled a seemingly indestructible Manchester City on Monday night was a reminder that Mourinho has brought more than just charisma back to England.
“He’s brilliant for the Premier League,” says Pardew. “I do love him. I do love him for what he brings.
“We all love him – or most of us.
“You don’t get the record he’s got of winning trophies unless you have a very, very sharp intellect. I think it was interesting what he said this week (about Chelsea being the outsiders of the three title contenders). He’s had a few managers pass under him, working under him, as I have had. But they can never take your DNA as a manager.
“You can do the same sessions, the same this and that but at the end of the day it’s what happens in the dressing room during those really crucial moments that matter. He gets those right more often than he gets them wrong.
“Most weeks are a tactical masterclass from Mourinho, of course he walks on water. Monday’s was a great game, what makes the Premier League, everyone expected Man City to win it but they were a little bit short on the night which was a factor but Chelsea did a great job, the manager and players were terrific, and the masseur apparently.
“If you do not concentrate for 90 minutes they will win, they expect to win, they have that confidence.
“It is not about parking the bus because you have to offer a goal threat. You do need to defend well, and West Ham did that brilliantly (in last month’s 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge). Hopefully we can do that same defensive job but offer a threat and maybe score a goal or two too, which would be great.”
All Pardew had better hope is that come tonight he and Mourinho are not friends at all.
Only those he sees as posing no threat make it into the Chelsea manager’s good books.