Ref in Focus: Kevin Friend the right referee to inspire FA Cup upset

With their Premier League survival bid hanging delicately in the balance, few expect Newcastle to place too much emphasis on their FA Cup clash with Chelsea this weekend. In fact, it could prove to be an incredibly one-sided affair if the Magpies’ meetings with the Premier League’s big six this season are anything to go by.

In actuality though, the meeting at Stamford Bridge on Sunday represents a fantastic chance for Newcastle to pull off arguably the biggest upset of the fourth round. For starters, Chelsea find themselves amid something of a soul search after being eliminated from the League Cup by Arsenal on Wednesday night and winning just one of their last seven games across all competitions.

With the race for the top six heating up and Chelsea playing again on Wednesday too, Antonio Conte will feel obliged to field a somewhat weakened side this weekend.

Equally promising as that however, from Newcastle’s perspective at least, is the appointment of referee Kevin Friend – one of the Premier League’s most lenient officials. Indeed, the 46-year-old ranks in the bottom three for fouls per tackle and fouls per game from the 18 referees to work in the top flight this term, while he’s in the bottom half for yellow cards as well.

That gives licence to more physical challenges and as the team who will expect to do the majority of the defending on Saturday, Newcastle simply must take advantage by bogging down Chelsea’s attacking cast with aggressive attempts to win the ball.

Additionally, no referee has awarded more penalties per match this season than Friend, so if Newcastle can create some chaos in the opposition box and force a challenge from the Blues, there’s a high chance of winning a penalty – and, if converted, something to hold onto in the match.

However, it’s not all good news for Sunday’s visitors. An incredible 77% of the top fight matches Friend has officiated this season have ended in home wins and after 13 games, there seem to be more instrumental factors at work rather than it simply being a coincidence.

All-in-all though, if you add a dose of FA Cup magic to Chelsea’s recent form and Friend’s lenient refereeing style, Newcastle have a huge chance to defy expectations and come out on top this Sunday.