In what will be viewed by football posterity in the future as a huge & symbolic week in the changing of the guard at the top of English, European & World Football, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who has bankrolled the club since 2003 to its zenith as European & World Club Champions, was hit by severe sanctions by the UK Government that will lead to its downfall as a major football force just as Eddie Howe was named Premier League Manager of the Month at Newcastle United, the richest club in the world since the Saudi Arabia-backed takeover in 2021 and football's emergent superpower.
Right now, 11 Premier League places and 25 points separate the two sides as Thomas Tuchel's men have fallen off the title-chasing pace of Man City & Liverpool and are third with 56 points from 27 games while Newcastle have 31 points from 27 but it is the Premier League table in 2022 that paints a picture of the future of English football:
Incredibly from what preceded the turn of the year, Eddie Howe's side are the second best team in 2022 above Champions Man City and just two points behind Liverpool and above Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Man Utd, four of the former "Big Six", whose stranglehold Newcastle are destined to supplant and supercede in the future.
Howe's turnaround of The Toon was recognised as he won The Premier League Manager of the Month award for February after a hat-trick of wins against Everton, Aston Villa & Brentford plus a draw at West Ham saw The Magpies soar from 18th in the table at the outset of the month to 14th place after banking 10 precious points to blast away from the relegation zone towards Premier League safety.
Both sides played on Thursday night with Chelsea beating Norwich City 3-1 at Carrow Road with the game almost a sideshow to the turmoil caused off the pitch by the extraordinary sanctions imposed on the club by the UK government on Abramovich, whose strong links to Putin meant his assets were frozen and seized to prevent him funding the "Russian war machine" according to the Prime Minister's spokesperson:
There was minor controversy in comparison surrounding the Southampton - Newcastle game - originally scheduled to be played in late December but cancelled for Covid injuries to Newcastle players causing Saints boss Ralph Hassenhuttl to complain that Newcastle's January signings shouldn't be allowed to play in the rearranged - but on the pitch at St Mary's Stadium, it was the £32.5M Brazilian international Bruno Guimaraes who stole the headlines with a sensational winner on his full Magpies debut:
Newcastle fans had enjoyed glimpses of their new no. 39 Bruno G - and had celebrated his every minute and touch of substitute cameos with hysterical Bruno! Bruno! chants and their new hero didn't let them down with a sensational winner that was part back heel, part flick, part Scorpion kick while looking the other way to seal all three points.
Chris Wood scored his first goal for Newcastle following his £25M from Burnley in January with a great header to equalize Stuart Armstrong's opening goal for The Saints:
Despite no goals in his his first 7 games, Newcastle's upturn in form coincided with Wood's arrival after which Newcastle remain unbeaten winning 6 & drawing 2 following that toothless defeat by Cambridge in the FA Cup which prompted The Magpies to splash out on an emergency target man no.9 following the injury to Callum Wilson.
Newcastle spent £92M in the January transfer window - the most money in Europe - with the now injured Kieran Trippier arriving as well as Wood, Bruno G and stalwart defenders Dan Burn and Matt Target and it is keeping a winning momentum going and winning 20 points from a possible 24 to totally transform the season without Trippier, the injured Callum Wilson & lately Allan Saint-Maximum that has led to Eddie Howe's name being mentioned in the Manager of the Year conversation:
A reborn Newcastle face their biggest test of 2022 yet away to Chelsea, who remain one of the best teams on the planet despite the off-pitch turmoil surrounding the club at the moment and have only lost twice in 2022 to Champions Man City in The Premier League and Liverpool on penalties in The Carabao Cup Final and are in the Quarter-Finals of The FA Cup and Last 16 of The Champions League and travel to Lille on Wednesday with a 2-0 lead from the first leg at Stamford Bridge & have a squad of top class players.
There was some good news for Blues fans worried about the future of their club late on Friday night when it emerged that both the UK Government and Roman Abramovich have given the green light to a quick sale of the club so they will have new owners and relatively rapidly although Abramovich's ambition & success will be tough to follow and Thomas Tuchel asked all fans & journalists to put football in its proper perspective.
Back to football and Eddie Howe is one of the few Premier League managers to go to Stamford Bridge and win by three goals as he did against Antonio Conte's Champions in 2018 and he has tasted victory on more than occasion winning 1-0 in 2015 & 1-0 in 2019 thanks to ex-Mags Dan Gosling's winner. Its a ground he relishes playing at although he knows Newcastle will have to be at their very best if they are to continue their upward trend and his own superb record at The Bridge:
“It’s a very special place to play football. I enjoyed three of the five games I had there, although I didn’t enjoy the other two very much. It is a very special place to play. We’ve enjoyed our encounters there.
“They have top players. The stadium is quite close to the pitch and there’s a really good atmosphere. They’ve got a top manager too – I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Thomas (Tuchel). I think he’s done an incredible job.
“We’re going to need to be at our very best, at a stadium where we know the size of the task. It is an incredibly difficult ground to get anything from. I think every time we have with Bournemouth, we’ve got everything right, and it’s that kind of game, where you have to get everything right otherwise you won’t get anything.”
The complete absence of Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin from Thursday night's squad - ostensibly for injury - may mean Howe was resting them to go for the jugular against a potentially vulnerable Chelsea in what will be a strange and potentially uncertain atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. Howe said this of the pair but fans will be hoping some kidology is involved to surprise Chelsea:
“Joelinton has also been managing a groin problem and he’s come off in a couple of games with it.
“He’s gone down injured and always managed to carry on but yesterday (Wednesday) I think the pain got too much for him.
“We don’t anticipate that keeping him out too long but it was enough for this game. We know in the games we have to come we wanted to protect him.
“Maxi’s ill. We hope that’s not a long-term thing for him. I don’t know if he’ll be back for Chelsea or not.”
Either way it'll be Newcastle's best chance of victory away at Chelsea since Papiss Cisse's spectacular brace for Alan Pardew's soaring 2011/12 side who finished 5th:
The eyes of the football world will be on Stamford Bridge on Sunday as its the first televised match since UK Government sanctions were imposed on Abramovich and it promises to be an enthralling encounter.
Prediction - Chelsea 2 Newcastle 3