Chelsea facing tough test at Newcastle
Updated: December 02, 2011, 07:17
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LONDON(AP) A week after slowing Manchester United's title challenge, Newcastle will look to do the same to struggling Chelsea and provide further evidence of its ability to compete with the Premier League's top teams this season.
Newcastle is holding its own among exalted company at the top of the division, with a 1-1 draw at second-place United keeping the northeast side fourth and still in the Champions League positions.
Chelsea is a point and a place behind Newcastle going into Saturday's match at St. James' Park and is looking to bounce back from a 2-0 loss to Liverpool in the League Cup quarterfinals - its fifth defeat in nine games that has increased the pressure on manager Andre Villas-Boas.
"Saturday is a tough game but one to look forward to, especially on the back of a fantastic result at Manchester United last weekend,'' Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul said.
"Our confidence is sky high. It is perhaps a good time to play Chelsea. We are full of confidence and they maybe are a little bit down because they are not on such a good run.''
With unbeaten Manchester City setting a fierce pace at the summit, five points ahead of United and 10 ahead of Chelsea, Villas-Boas' team realistically cannot afford another slip-up.
However, Newcastle is confounding most pundits' pre-campaign expectations by maintaining its form into the busy Christmas period, the draw at United coming after an impressive display in a 3-1 loss at City that ended its undefeated record this season.
Villas-Boas continues to insist he has the backing of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich but acknowledges that December, during which his team also plays City and third-place Tottenham in the league and has a "do-or-die'' Champions League match against Valencia, will be crucial.
"Conversations have been ongoing with the board and they have been fully supportive,'' Villas-Boas said.
"We are not avoiding our responsibilities towards this year, that is for sure. If we look back at our position that we finish in the league at the end of the season, we would look back at this period always as a period when we might just have lost track of our points.''
There will be a minute's applause at all 10 Premier League games this weekend in honor of Gary Speed, the Wales national team manager who died on Sunday.
Tributes will be particularly emotional at Newcastle and Everton, two of the clubs Speed played for and captained in a distinguished career.
"Our players will be desperate for us to win to pay a tribute in that way,'' Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said. "He was a great player here and a captain of this club, and he has been a big loss to us this week.''
City is at home to Norwich on Saturday, with all talk of Roberto Mancini's team going through the season unbeaten like Arsenal's "Invincibles'' of 2003-04 being downplayed.
"We don't think about this record. We just want to play as well as we can every single game,'' said City defender Kolo Toure, a member of that Arsenal team.
"When you start thinking about it, you play without control. For me, we just need to relax, go out, do our best and win the game. At Arsenal, we never thought about it, it never came into my mind.''
Elsewhere Saturday, United visits Aston Villa, in-form Tottenham hosts Bolton bidding to extend its unbeaten run to 11 games, seventh-place Arsenal travels to next-to-last Wigan and Queens Park Rangers is at home to West Bromwich. Blackburn is bottom of the table heading into its home match against Swansea.
On Sunday, Everton hosts Stoke and Wolverhampton Wanderers is at home to Sunderland, which will be managed by assistant coach Eric Black following the sacking of Steve Bruce on Wednesday after a dreadful run of results that has left the team fifth from bottom.
Sixth-place Liverpool visits Fulham on Monday.