Newcastle manager Alan Pardew draws on homework to stop Chelsea
There are still many stray strands to be woven into the rich tapestry of this particular Premier League season as it reaches its conclusion. For example, are Chelsea back gunning for third place after a run of one defeat in 16 games, or do the FA Cup and Champions League finals hold prominence? Can Newcastle regain momentum after Saturday's crushing defeat at Wigan, and restart their fight with more wealthy clubs?
Tonight at Stamford Bridge will determine whether Newcastle's season has reached its summit already and, in keeping with a complex finale for the entire division, whether they can offer a realistic challenge to Manchester City on Sunday.
That the Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew, undertook a study of Chelsea when Jose Mourinho was in charge (and the football club's fabric unquestionably retains his stamp) adds a further element of intrigue. He was given access to the inner sanctum of Mourinho's and Chelsea's working process, the DNA that Roberto Di Matteo has turned to with such staggering effect to transform the club's season. If Pardew can take advantage of any secret he uncovered, it could breath life into the drooping sails of Manchester United as well, such is the nature of this campaign.
"Before I got this job, Chelsea was perhaps the team I visited most," said Pardew. "I know them well. I did a big study of Mourinho, how he played and how he got that record at home. I know those players very well. Their record at home, particularly under Mourinho, was just incredible, and I wanted to get my head around that.
"I came away with a couple of things, but the main thing was good players. You need great players that are highly motivated and at a confident level. They must have gone two-and-a-half seasons without losing at home, and Jose had done that at Porto before that. It wasn't just about great players, there was obviously something else going on.
"They're re-motivated now and the fact it was reported that they needed to be replaced because they lacked legs has now worked on the other side of the coin. They're proving everybody wrong, and that's what great players do.
"The whole of the Chelsea team now has momentum, and that's a key ingredient of success. But like us, it can just bite you every now and then, as Man United found out when they travelled to Wigan and got beat 1-0 and Tottenham found when Norwich beat them at home. We're not the only good team that has come unstuck.
"This is a big night for that Champions League position. Tottenham go to Bolton and we play Chelsea. But there are still two games left where things can change again."
Newcastle will also need to break their poor run in the capital. They have lost three times and drawn once in London this season, conceding 12 goals in the process. "I think fifth place is important as well," added Pardew, as if to emphasise the clouded nature of the season, even so near to its end.
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