Chelsea travel to St. James Park to take on Newcastle United on Sunday afternoon. The Blues enter this match looking to make it three straight wins to open the season, but in order to do so, they’ll have to beat a Newcastle side that has performed reasonably well in their first two matches, despite not necessarily getting positive results.
Newcastle deserved a point against Tottenham on the opening day of the season, but fell to Spurs due to some woeful finishing and very nearly took all three points last week against Cardiff despite going down to 10 men.
Rafa Benitez, though, may have himself a small crisis in defence. Issac Hayden’s sending off against Cardiff coupled with an injury to Javier Manquillo could leave the Magpies short at right back. DeAndre Yedlin limped off with a knee injury near the end of the opening match against Tottenham and Newcastle will hope that he can return on Sunday, easing the potential crisis at right back.
The good news for Newcastle is that Joselu is showing some form in attack after a poor debut season last year. Just by scoring in the opening match against Tottenham, the Spaniard has reached one-fourth of his goal return from last season. With Joselu and Ayoze Perez leading the forward line, Newcastle do possess two reasonably quick attackers which could prove dangerous to Chelsea’s defence.
Chelsea’s defence is still very much a work in progress. The switch to a back four has taken a bit of time to adapt to, including the overall positioning within the pressing style that Maurizio Sarri is asking them to play.
Last week against Arsenal, the Gunners exploited a weakness in Chelsea’s defensive structure, finding ways to work the ball into wide positions and finding late runners from midfield with pullbacks. Luckily for Chelsea, Arsenal’s finishing was woeful. Otherwise, a 3-2 win could have easily been a 5-2 defeat.
One positive for Chelsea is that Eden Hazard’s cameos from the substitutes’ bench may be coming to an end. Sarri admitted that Hazard isn’t quite fit enough to play a full 90, but said that the Belgian may very well make his first start of the season against Newcastle.
While Willian has played solid on the left, Hazard’s presence against Huddersfield and Arsenal was definitely felt. It’s likely that Willian will be the one to make way for Hazard’s return since Pedro has played well in his right-sided role this season.
Chelsea will also have to overcome the hoodoo of St. James Park. Chelsea have lost a total of 11 matches away to Newcastle in the Premier League, and in their last five league trips to St. James Park have resulted in four defeats and a draw.
For one reason or another, Newcastle find a way to become world beaters when they face Chelsea at home, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they did it again.