Chelsea-Newcastle United Preview
LONDON (SE) - Rafa Benitez's Chelsea will be looking to bounce back as they travel to St James' Park to play Newcastle on Saturday.
Chelsea (12-6-6) were stunned by a late Reading comeback in a 2-2 draw on Wednesday, and the Spaniard revealed he found the turnaround difficult to explain.
"We were controlling the game for 85 minutes," said Benitez. "But from the last free kick we made too many mistakes in one situation that we'd been dealing well with all night. We had chances to finish the game, but we didn't do it. Even after they scored the first goal we were still in control, but if we scored three or four goals it changes the game.
"We are all disappointed, we knew that we could be closer and reducing the gap. Everybody has the same feeling; we were in control until the last minute. I was really pleased with the players, they were doing a great job, but the little things make a difference. We are still in a very good position in the table but it could be better."
Hosts Newcastle (6-6-12) go into Saturday's match on the back of a crucial 2-1 win over Aston Villa in midweek - a result that lifted them four points clear of the relegation zone. After the game, and reflecting on his side's hectic January transfer window, manager Alan Pardew revealed he is delighted with recent events.
"I think it's just been a great few days for us," said Pardew. "Derek Llambias and Lee Charnley did well to get the players over the line in time for this game and we played with a fluency in the first half that we've not seen for a long while from this team.
"We caused Aston Villa all sorts of problems, controlled the game - and then we conceded perhaps a silly goal just after half-time and we had to show another side - the fight and the grind and the battle that you need in the Premier League at times. No wins come easy in this division and we stood up to that. It was a combination of our senior players, our new players and some players that have had to show real application to get this win."
Newcastle are without Hatem Ben Arfa (hamstring) and Ryan Taylor (knee), while Sylvain Marveaux (ankle), Danny Simpson (broken toe) and Dan Gosling (knee) are doubts. Chelsea midfielder Oriol Romeu is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, while Juan Mata (ankle), Petr Cech (knock) and David Luiz (ankle) are doubts.
Eden Hazard will complete serving his three-match ban for kicking out a Swansea City ball boy during a Capital One Cup match on Jan. 23.
Only Wigan Athletic (7) have lost more home games than Newcastle (6). Chelsea have won seven games away from home this season, scoring 23 goals, and only league leaders Manchester United have better records.
Hazard and Fernando Torres earned Chelsea a 2-0 win when these teams met at Stamford Bridge in August. That result was just the second win in five games for the Blues against Newcastle.