The Chelsea coach taking over from Frank Lampard and Jody Morris before every game this season

It is 50 minutes before kick off at St James’ Park and third-choice goalkeeper Jamie Cumming and goalkeeping coach Hilario are the first to emerge from the tunnel on a crisp Tyneside evening.

They are soon followed by Kepa and Willy Caballero, the ‘keepers in this evening’s matchday squad, and they all slide smoothly into a well-worn routine.

After some dynamic stretching and running drills for Kepa and Caballero, all four gather for a short rondo-like passing game and there is a feeling of familiarity about it all.

This is Chelsea’s 40th game of the season, including friendlies, and the structure rarely seems to change. There are minor tweaks, different stretches, but the fundamentals remain the same during the team’s warm-up.

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With 40 minutes to go until the evening kick-off, the outfield players arrive. Most grab a ball but N’Golo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta break off separately to do some strides and stretches.

This is not a once off – Azpilicueta goes through the same solitary routine at the beginning of every warm up, running across the width of the pitch half a dozen times and incorporating some high knees and other dynamic stretches.

It all seems informal and relaxed but then the substitutes break off to form a mini-group as the starting outfield players are beckoned to one flank by fitness coach Matt Birnie, who plays a crucial role in ensuring the players are ready come kick off.

Birnie is perhaps the least recognisable face in Frank Lampard’s backroom team but has been at the club since 2005, working with the academy as a fitness coach before being promoted to the first-team set up in the summer. For these 25 minutes, his role is crucial.

The players pick up some rubber stretch bands that he has laid out in a circle on the pitch and go through a routine that involves squats and some hokey-cokey, in-out-in-out gestures.


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