The countdown until Premier League action is well underway, with Chelsea's international representatives having now featured in their final games before returning to west London. Newcastle await at St James' Park on Saturday afternoon, and time is tight for Mauricio Pochettino to prepare his team to take on the Magpies.
The Blues have already had a boost in seeing Levi Colwill and Malo Gusto return to the training pitch after the duo withdrew from their international squad due to injury, while the likes of Thiago Silva who had time off, returned to Cobham earlier in the week. There is still to be a wait for Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo who finished their efforts in South America just hours ago, and no doubt they will be assessed upon their return with little time to train ahead of facing Eddie Howe's side.
Newcastle have no shortage of injury issues of their own, and will be unable to utilise Lewis Hall who is ineligible to face the Blues while on his season-long loan. In many ways, the trip to the North East could be seen as the perfect opportunity for Chelsea to establish some momentum heading into a busy festive period.
The Blues boss will not be taking the game lightly and want to launch a solid assault up the Premier League table with the west London side to face Brighton and Manchester United, who also currently sit above them.
Robert Sanchez has been present at Cobham to continue to training and will continue in goal in the North East. He will preside over a defence that will undoubtedly include Reece James, with the latter being able to peak for this match having not joined up with England.
Thiago Silva will be refreshed having spent some time in Brazil during the break, and this week Benoit Badiashile and Marc Cucurella will have been available to work alongside too. That familiarity and ability to gameplan could provide an advantage for a player such as the Frenchman who has yet to start a Premier League match this season.
Colwill could provide competition for him or Cucurella and has already been involved in training after a shoulder injury meant he missed the draw with Manchester City. Axel Disasi too will be pushing for a spot on his return from France duty and has Pochettino's most frequently used partnership with Silva. There won't be an easy decision for Pochettino to make.
Providing they can recover from their travels in time Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo remain easy picks in the centre of the pitch and they will be helped in their duties by Conor Gallagher. The Cobham product picked up an ankle knock against City, but still played 45 minutes for England and will be desperate to continue his fine form in the Chelsea starting lineup.
The question most will be asking will be about Christopher Nkunku's return. The Frenchman had targeted the game against Newcastle and is nearing a comeback. However, the Blues have proved patient when recovering players this term and will not want to take any risks. With Pochettino taking a day-by-day approach there remains an anxious wait to see if Nkunku will be available to make his debut.
Perhaps the 26-year-old's impact would be greater felt from the bench against a tiring Newcastle backline, rather than against a fresh side as he attempts to get up to speed. In truth, it would be difficult to drop Raheem Sterling or Cole Palmer, fresh from an England debut while Nicolas Jackson will hope to continue his goalscoring form after netting four times in two matches.
Strongest Chelsea XI: Sanchez; James, Disasi, Silva, Cucurella; Caicedo, Fernandez, Gallagher; Palmer, Sterling, Jackson.
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