Newcastle and Chelsea enter their final day Premier League clash with completely different motives. For the Magpies, it’s an opportunity to end their return to the top flight on a high note, with their status for next season already secured. But for the Blues, it’s a final half-chance to qualify for the Champions League, albeit needing Liverpool to slip up at home against Brighton.
That should see Antonio Conte’s side go all out for victory, but St. James’ Park has never been a happy hunting ground for the west Londoners. So, can history tell us anything about what to expect on Sunday? Which manager faces the bigger injury problems? How could the referee influence the match? And who enters the 3pm kickoff in better form?
Our match preview covers everything you need to know…
Chelsea may have won twice as many times as Newcastle during their 45 Premier League meetings to date, but the real concern for the Blues heading into this weekend is their somewhat modest record at St. James’ Park. Jose Mourinho famously failed to win there in the Premier League during his two spells as Chelsea boss and the west Londoners are winless in their last four visits, losing three of those. Still, Newcastle’s win rate upon Chelsea’s trips to Tyneside remains just 45% – so a victory for Antonio Conte’s side this Sunday is by no means out of the question.
Eden Hazard too, boasts a potent record against the Magpies, his eight Premier League appearances against them producing six goals and two assists.
Chelsea may have endured a bitter disappointment last time out against Huddersfield, drawing 1-1 despite completely dominating the Stamford Bridge clash, but there’s no doubt they enter Sunday’s game on Tyneside in far better form than the hosts.
In fact, Newcastle are on a four-game losing streak, their last victory being the 2-1 win over Arsenal that confirmed their top flight survival, and haven’t even faced particularly challenging opposition during that time with the exception of Tottenham – the other three losses coming against Watford, West Brom and Everton.
Chelsea, meanwhile, are undefeated since their 3-1 loss to Tottenham at Stamford Bridge and although their return of goals has been far from spectacular, averaging just 1.5 per game, January signing Olivier Giroud has hit form at just the right time – netting thrice during Chelsea’s last six Premier League outings.
Martin Atkinson is one of the Premier League’s most experienced and competent referees, but comes with one overriding concern – a seemingly inherent reluctance to award penalties. Despite averaging the third-most yellow cards and the eighth-most fouls per match of the 20 referees to work in the top flight this season, he ranks a lowly 17th for spot kicks. That suggests a tendency to shy away from big decisions, and his failure to award a penalty for Ashley Young’s challenge on Sergio Aguero in the last Manchester derby provides an incredibly recent example of this.
The good news for Chelsea though, despite the fact they’ve lost both of their games in which Atkinson has officiated this season, is how many away wins the Yorkshireman has overseen. A 41% away win bias represents the third-highest rate of any Premier League referee throughout 2017/18.
At this point in the season, the shape and personnel of Newcastle’s starting XI is pretty much set. Benitez sets up his side in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Ayoze Perez playing just off a central striker and Jonjo Shelvey pulling the strings alongside Mohamed Diame in midfield. But with Kenedy unavailable due to Chelsea being his parent club, Benitez faces a key decision to make on the left wing. With all likelihood, summer signing Jacob Murphy – who Transfermarkt value at £6.3million – will be given the opportunity to impress at the end of a stop-start debut season on Tyneside. The speedy winger should give Newcastle a key outlet on the counter-attack.
Conte’s midweek starting XI certainly divided opinion, particularly the omissions of Giroud and Eden Hazard. But with this game representing an all-or-nothing contest for the west Londoners, we’re expecting both of Chelsea’s attacking heavyweights to return to the starting XI, likely at the expense of Pedro and Alvaro Morata. 58-cap captain Gary Cahill should be brought back into the fold as well, replacing Andreas Christensen at the heart of defence.
Courtois returned to training today after missing the 1-1 draw with Huddersfield due to a back injury. David Luiz, Danny Drinkwater and Ethan Ampadu remain sidelined. #CFC
— Ben Dinnery (@BenDinnery) May 11, 2018
The only other point of contention is in goal. Thibaut Courtois has trained this week but we suspect he won’t be risked to ensure the Belgian shot-stopper is available for the FA Cup final clash against Manchester United next weekend.