Chelsea host Newcastle United in the opening fixture of the weekend and there will be a lot of interest in the game as Rafa Benitez returns to his former club. The Spaniard was never fully taken to at Stamford Bridge and he will be eager to return to haunt the Blues. His team are on a winless run of five matches and the timing of this fixture isn’t great for him, but the unpredictability of the Premier League means that anything could happen this weekend.
Antonio Conte has managed to get his Chelsea team back on track with a good run of form that has lifted them to a secure position in the top four. A title challenge remains unlikely, but they do have a kind schedule over the Christmas period and there will be an opportunity to make up some ground on Manchester City. During the midweek fixtures, they took three points against Swansea City. Although it wasn’t a classic performance, they got the job done and that will please their perfectionist manager.
Newcastle are currently ranked lowest of the three promoted clubs, but Benitez will be relatively pleased with their position considering the lack of money spent during the summer. The main aim for this season is to remain in the Premier League and their manager will be looking to build from there, as his aspirations are much larger than staying in the top-flight. There continues to be uncertainty regarding the ownership of the club as it is up for sale and discussions are ongoing with various interested parties. If a takeover can be completed before the new year, it will give them the opportunity to strengthen the squad and stay up with comfort. Otherwise, it could be another long season for the club as the past few weeks have been a struggle.
Kenedy and Michy Batshuayi could both be back in the Chelsea squad for this weekend. However, Charly Musonda and David Luiz are expected to be missing for the match against Newcastle United.
Jamaal Lascelles is one week away from a return to the Newcastle team. Meanwhile, Christian Atsu and Paul Dummett are one week further away from wearing the black and white again. The rest of the squad are available.
- Chelsea have scored eight headed goals this season, which is more than any other team in the Premier League. They are a physical side under Conte and that could play a part on Saturday.
- Newcastle United failed to win a match in the month of November. They can’t afford for that record to stretch too far into December, or they will be in another relegation battle.
It was a surprise to see Chelsea rest Eden Hazard on Wednesday, but the decision made it certain that he would be playing a crucial role in this match. Newcastle United will fear the Belgian and he will be fully rested to attack the fixture. Conte probably made the call to rest him as he didn’t have a full pre-season and the Blues can’t afford to lose him to another injury. The match against Swansea was one that the team should win regardless of the team that they put out, therefore it was the perfect chance to rest their key player. Prior to Wednesday, the Belgian international had scored three goals and contributed two assists in his last three appearances in all competitions. He is reaching his best ahead of the festive period and he will be the team’s biggest threat this weekend.
There were a lot of good signings made during the summer, but Newcastle’s capture of Mikel Merino will be looked back on as one of the best. After joining on an initial loan spell, the midfielder made his move permanent for a fee of around £7 million. In the current market, this is a great deal as the 21-year-old has already emerged as one of the most important players in the Magpies’ line-up. Benitez has proven that he still has an eye for a bargain and he will be the key player this weekend, as Newcastle will need to compete in midfield areas. He is combative in central areas, averaging 2.5 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per game.
This is going to be an extremely difficult weekend for Newcastle United, as they haven’t won in five Premier League matches and are likely to be without their captain again. In the three matches that Jamaal Lascelles hasn’t started, the Magpies have conceded nine goals. He is crucial to their defence and it will be much easier for Chelsea to create chances in his absence. A team coached by Benitez should never be ruled out, but they are the outsiders on Saturday. It is likely to be a Blues victory, but it will be an intriguing watch to see how the visitors perform.
Chelsea 2-0 Newcastle United