Newcastle United vs Chelsea
Venue: St James’ Park
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
Referee: Paul Tierrney
Newcastle United, who didn’t deserve a point against Cardiff City, yet somehow squandered all three, play host to Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea on Sunday. Marcos Alonso made sure The Blue’s didn’t suffer a similar fate against Arsenal, after letting the Gunners back onto level terms; when Chelsea initially appeared in control. A repeat of Newcastle’s heroics when these two sides previously met on the final day of last season seems considerably less likely.
However, if there’s one thing Rafael Benitez has proved during his tenure at St James’ Park it’s that anything is possible. On occasions the Spaniard has masterminded outstanding results from vastly improbable situations, but if Sunday is to be such an occasion Newcastle must remain more focused than last weekend.
Against Neil Warnock’s Cardiff, The Magpies were unsettled by the home side’s disruptive tactics. Although Sarri won’t employ the same methods, the lack of possession can be equally, if not more frustrating.
Victory for Newcastle would require rapid bursts forward in behind Chelsea’s defensive line, likely orchestrated by Jonjo Shelvey’s ability to transition the ball forwards. There are few other methods of penetrating The Blues that lie within Newcastle’s ability. If they can defeat the odds and gain all three points though this would make amends for the dour display against Cardiff.
Equally, drawing against a team that managed to score a trio of goals in both opening fixtures would signify how difficult Benitez’s side can be to beat when they are at their attentive best. This is the impression they need to send out to the rest of the Premier League or risk losing St James’ Park’s fortress tag.
Form would suggest defeat appears the most likely outcome for the home side. The best is yet to come from Maurizio Sarri’s new outfit, nonetheless based on early performances, Chelsea manifest themselves far less pragmatically than under Antonio Conte. Stamford Bridge’s new manager has reinvigorated verve throughout a team who had a lacklustre previous season.
If Chelsea are to continue to keep pace with the early frontrunners, it’s essential they leave the North East with a win. Manchester City’s demolition of Huddersfield on Sunday was the confirmation nobody needed that they are still the team to beat.
Though, any points dropped through the expose of Chelsea’s defensive frailties might prove costly in their attempt to qualify for the Champions League. If Benitez side resemble his previous tactical setup against equally possession-hungry Manchester City, he will likely go for a deep-lying low block. While those two banks of four have proved functional with regards to defence; they’ve often left the remaining forwards isolated and have offered little attacking threat.
One thing is for certain is that Florian Lejeune won’t form part of that back four, as he remains unavailable through a knee injury. DeAndre Yedlin missed out last weekend through injury and remains a significant doubt for Sunday. His cover against Cardiff, Javier Manquillo, picked up a knock and had to be substituted at half-time.
His replacement Isaac Hayden was only on the pitch for 21 minutes before being shown a straight red card by Craig Pawson. That leaves Newcastle in the problematic situation of having no match fit right-back and Manquillo as the fittest, might be risked.
Elsewhere, Kenedy finds himself fortunate to be available on a technicality, after Pawson gave a free-kick for lashing out when red might have been more appropriate.
For the away side, Michy Batshuayi lacks match fitness after reaching the World Cup semi-finals with Belgium. Cesc Fabregas is also likely to remain sidelined with a knee injury but is expected to return to training this week. Ross Barkley deputised capably at the weekend and will likely do so again in Newcastle.
Eden Hazard grabbed himself an assist for the winner off the bench against Arsenal; once again this may be where he starts from, as he’s eased back into the squad after a busy summer with Belgium.
Predicted Starting XI:
Newcastle United: Dubravka; Manquillo, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett; Ritchie, Diame, Shelvey, Murphy; Perez; Joselu.
Chelsea: Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Barkley; Pedro, Morata, Willian.
Score Prediction: Newcastle 0 Chelsea 3
Even if the hosts employ their usual defensive tactics, Chelsea’s momentum currently suggests this won’t be enough. Huddersfield Town only managed 22% possession against Chelsea on the opening day and Newcastle could be suffocated in the same manner. The Magpies will have to take any opportunities that come their way, while The Blues might have plentiful.