Blues should be victorious in battle with average Newcastle
Sky Premier League, 12.30pm Saturday
Chelsea were made to work hard by struggling Swansea before limping over the line on Wednesday, but then their whole title defence has turned into something of a scrap.
The Blues have failed to win five of their 14 matches while five of their nine victories have been by the odd goal, including the 1-0 success over the Swans.
Six of their nine victories overall have been in games featuring three or fewer goals and that looks the bet for the visit of Newcastle.
The first presumption, of course, is that Chelsea win and they’re certainly hard to dislike against lesser opposition. On the flip side, Newcastle are hard to like against any team outside the bottom half.
All four of the Magpies’ wins this season have come against teams in the bottom five while their record against sides in the top half reads played six, lost five, drawn one, two goals scored, 12 conceded.
There’s a gap between Newcastle and the best and they are seriously struggling to bridge it.
The problems for the Toon are manifold. Jamaal Lascelles, their best defender by a mile, is out. They have conceded nine goals in the three games he has missed and he’s still sidelined.
Ace midfielder Mikel Merino doesn’t look fully fit but Rafa Benitez will be loathe to leave him out. Benitez surely has to play Isaac Hayden because he needs a player who’s going to put in some tackles, but they look thin in central midfield.
He could try to squeeze in Jonjo Shelvey to make it a tight-knit three but that doesn’t address the problem of who scores the goals. Defenders Lascelles and Ciaran Clark are their joint-top scorers on two.
The Toon Army are losing faith in Joselu so Aleksandr Mitrovic could be asked to lead the line – he makes a decent target man in a match where the visitors aren’t going to see much of the ball.
They do create chances and have carved out 182 efforts on goal this term, just 12 fewer than Chelsea. Yet they have scored just 13 times, again 12 fewer than Chelsea.
Newcastle head for London on a run of five league games without a win and have tumbled down the table. Arguably they could feel a tad perkier because of the manner in which they came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at West Brom, but they aren’t playing that well and their record away from home is pretty awful.
Chelsea typically like this sort of fixture. Under Antonio Conte the Blues have won 16 out of 17 home games against teams from outside the top six and they are unbeaten in five in all competitions, a sequence which includes four clean sheets.
Chelsea to win & under 3.5 goals
1pt 11-10 BoyleSports, Coral, Ladbrokes
David Luiz, Michy Batshuayi and Kenedy are absentees.
Jamaal Lascelles, Paul Dummett and Christian Atsu are training again but remain sidelined.
Newcastle have managed one point out of a possible 18 against top-ten sides.
Follow us on Twitter @racingpostsport
Like us on Facebook RacingPostSport