Chelsea will be looking to bounce back from Carabao Cup disappointment by qualifying for the next round of the FA Cup as they welcome Newcastle United this weekend. It wasn’t straightforward for the Blues to make it this far, as they were taken to penalties by a determined Norwich City team. It has been a tough couple of months for Antonio Conte’s men as they have played 16 matches since the beginning of December. There have clearly been some signs of fatigue as their small squad size has started to take its toll. This weekend will offer a good opportunity to the visitors to gain a positive result at Stamford Bridge so it will be interesting to see their approach.
After a superb debut season in charge of Chelsea, Antonio Conte is struggling to re-create the success as his side have won only one of their last seven matches. Although they have lost only twice since the end of October, his side are drawing too many matches and their reliance on Eden Hazard is a big reason for that. Since Cesc Fabregas got injured, the Blues have been predictable to play against as they always give the ball to Hazard for inspiration. The signing of Ross Barkley was designed to add some much-needed attacking flair to the squad, but it remains to be seen if he can contribute at the highest level.
Newcastle United’s main priority has to be Premier League survival and their upcoming home league fixture against Burnley will be seen as more important as the FA Cup tie. This could see Rafa Benitez shuffle his pack and rest key players. In an ideal world, the Spaniard will want to take cup competitions seriously, but his squad isn’t ready to challenge on multiple fronts. They are looking to make some quality additions to ensure they do remain in the top-flight, but time is running out for them and no signings are expected ahead of this weekend. They did manage to sign Kenedy on loan from Sunday’s opposition. However, he won’t be able to feature.
Willian is a doubt for the home side after being substituted against Arsenal. Thibaut Courtois and Alvaro Morata are battling to be fit, while Cesc Fabregas will be missing again with a hamstring injury.
Florian Lejeune, Chancel Mbemba and Aleksandar Mitrovic could all be back in contention for the visitors. However, Jesus Gamez remains on the treatment table. Kenedy will not be eligible to make his debut.
- Eden Hazard has scored three goals in his last two Chelsea appearances, which is as many as he managed in his previous 14. Newcastle will be wary of his threat on Sunday.
- The Magpies haven’t made it past round four of the competition since the 2005-6 season.
The Belgium international is a central figure for Chelsea, as they often look to him to provide attacking flair to their forward line. As mentioned above, the current Premier League champions lack creativity without Fabregas and Hazard is the player expected to provide it. He is a skilful dribbler who is capable of beating players at will. However, the lack of other options in the team often lead to him being heavily marked and that can leave him ineffectual. In recent weeks, he has spent a lot of matches moving into wider positions and he struggles to make things happen from those areas of the pitch. At the age of 27, it is time for the attacker to kick on the establish his place at the very top of the sport, but he will need support if he is to achieve it. His contribution of eight goals and two assists in the Premier League isn’t great and he will be looking to improve on that record over the coming months. Newcastle will look to frustrate the home side and they will need their best player to perform if they are to avoid another poor afternoon.
The midfielder has been one of the best signings Newcastle have made in recent seasons and he shows that there is still value available in the modern day. Rafa Benitez hasn’t been given a lot of money to spend, but Merino has been a very good addition and he is likely to come back into the team on Sunday. The Spaniard has been struggling with a back niggle, but this is a good opportunity for him to come in and prove himself against one of the best sides in the country. In the Premier League, he averages 2.8 tackles and 1.7 interceptions per ninety minutes, which underlines his combative style in the middle of the park. However, it is his ability to lift his head and distribute effectively that makes him important to this Newcastle team. The midfield battle will be crucial on Sunday and it is the 21-year-old’s responsibility to make sure his team compete.
There are not likely to be a lot of goals in this match, as neither side are excellent in the final third. Chelsea have looked tired in recent weeks and it will be a similar war of attrition as they attempt to break down a resolute defence. Newcastle will look to be solid at the back and limit the chances given to the home side, before offering a threat of their own on the counter-attack. A lot will depend on the teams picked by each manager. A home win is the most likely result, despite their poor form of late.