London ball

Mud-loving Blues set to face Middlesborough

CHELSEA host Newcastle at Bridge on Sunday, before flying to France for the second leg of the Champions League duel with Lille.

There is new optimism in SW6 as the dust settles after Roman Abramovich’s sudden decision to sell, with former goalkeeper Petr Cech holding meetings at the Cobham training ground to reassure players about the future.

It all comes as Reece James returns to full match fitness, demonstrating his value to the team with a pivotal performance at Turf Moor where, with four second-half goals, the Blues activated style and swept Burnley from side.

James opened the scoring with spellbinding footwork before Kai Havertz netted twice and Christian Pulisic (who regularly finds form) finished off the Clarets.

“Reece’s goal was brilliant,” Havertz said of his team-mate’s strike, as the right-back started a game for the first time in 10 weeks through injury.

Gaffer Tom Tuchel said after the match that the Burnley pitch had been very dry and that had slowed down play. “The ball was kind of always stuck between our legs,” he said.

This opens up an interesting debate about watering pitch. At Stamford Bridge (and Kingsmeadow, where the Chelsea women play), the sprinklers soak the surface in the half hour before each kick-off, giving the ball an extra touch.

Middlesbrough, who will face the Blues in the FA Cup quarter-final on March 19, have recorded Tuchel’s words and will now aim to turn the Riverside Stadium into a north-east wasteland!