Tough task for Tuchel to keep Chelsea on track
Everyone associated with Chelsea was rocked by Thursday morning's news that their oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich, had been sanctioned by the UK government.
The dust is still settling on the news and the ramifications for the club are still unclear, but it didn't stop the team from winning their fourth Premier League game in a row on Thursday night, as they comfortably beat Norwich 3-1 away.
Having raced to a two-nil lead after only 14 minutes, the Blues took their foot off the gas in the second half and a Teemu Pukki penalty halved Norwich's deficit before Kai Havertz put the game to bed in the 90th minute.
Chelsea's defeat to Liverpool in the Carabao Cup two weeks ago is their only defeat in 11 in all competitions since they went down 1-0 away at Manchester City two months ago so there's nothing wrong with their current form.
Aware how uncertain the club's future is off the field, the Chelsea boss, Thomas Tuchel, sounds determined to keep things simple and to keep his players focused on the job in hand.
"As long as we have enough shirts and a bus to drive to the games, we'll be there and will compete hard," he told BBC Radio 5 Live after the win at Norwich.
"We take it day by day. I didn't see that coming yesterday and I don't know what is coming tomorrow."
Thomas Tuchel's team is ticking along nicely but their opponents on Sunday, Newcastle, are running even hotter under new boss Eddie Howe...
In-form Magpies are on a roll
Newcastle were matched at a low of just 1.558/15 to be relegated soon after Eddie Howe took over at St James' Park in November but after a slow and stuttering start to his reign, and a successful January transfer window, the Magpies are playing so well under his stewardship that he's just been named Manager of the Month!
Newcastle are unbeaten in their last eight in the Premier League, with only Liverpool picking up more points than the Toon over the last eight games and following their 2-1 win away at Southampton on Thursday night, they've now won six of their last seven with the only slight hiccup being a 1-1 draw away at West Ham.
Howe's men are now 11 points clear of Burnley in 18th and they're in search of their fourth win in a row on the road in the Premier League.
Thursday's goals were scored by new signings, Chris Wood and Bruno Guimaraes, and the mood in the camp must be infinitely different to what it was a month ago.
The players will be looking up instead of down, confidence must be sky high, and the new investment since the takeover is starting to pay dividends.
Hosts must be opposed against in-form Toon
History points to the home side. Chelsea have won eight of their last 10 Premier League games against Newcastle (L2), including the last three in a row, and Newcastle have won just one of their last 27 away league games against Chelsea (D7 L19).
The Blues have won the last eight at home against the Magpies but that's where the good news ends.
Chelsea are unbeaten in their last nine Premier League home games (W4 D5), since a 1-0 loss against Manchester City in September, but in that sequence of nine, they've kept only two clean sheets.
Newcastle may not have a stellar record against Chelsea of late but their new manager won't fear the fixture. Howe's Bournemouth won three of five played at Stamford Bridge and of all visiting managers to have taken charge of at least three Premier League games there, Howe has the best win rate (60%).
Howe is of the opinion that Chelsea will be unaffected by the off the field shenanigans.
"We can't change our preparation in any way," said Howe after the win at Southampton. "I'll be watching Chelsea historically and trying to build a game plan to try to go there and win.
"I don't expect anything on the pitch to be any different."
Howe has to say that but I'm far from convinced. Coming out and securing three points at Norwich on the day the Abramovich news broke is quite different to beating one of the most in-form teams in the country, having sat and stewed over the news for days.
The Chelsea players also have to endure the inevitable rumours about the gaffer's future, and that can't be construed as anything but a sizable negative.
Chelsea are trading at just 1.11/10 to secure a Top 4 Finish so Champions League participation next season looks assured and even if the players aren't affected by the Abramovich situation, preparation for Wednesday's trip to Lille will be on their minds.
Chelsea are in a strong position after a 2-0 win in the home leg but Tucshel will have one eye on the fixture and there may not be a better time for the Toon to take them on.
Newcastle are a tempting price at double-figures in the outright market given the home side's off the field worries but the bet I like is Draw or Away in the Double Chance market and I'm also happy to have a small bet on Newcastle in the Draw no Bet market.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter