Jack Lang is expecting the Magpies to blunt their hosts early on in Saturday’s late kick-off…
“Leicester and Southampton have both frustrated Chelsea at the Bridge in recent weeks, and with Newcastle likely to be fairly defensive, this is unlikely to be an easy assignment”
Chelsea v Newcastle United
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Blues lack spark in attack
If Chelsea were in the market for something to divert attention away from their iffy form, they struck gold against Tottenham in midweek. The Harry Kane offside controversy dominated the headlines after that game, meaning another underwhelming attacking display went under the radar. It’s now just six goals in the seven games; no wonder they are being linked with moves for Callum Wilson and Gonzalo Higuain this month.
Does either look like a long-term solution? Possibly not, but the striking situation might just be dire enough to cancel out such concerns. Álvaro Morata has been about as convincing as a skyscraper made from candyfloss. Olivier Giroud is a better option, but has struggled with injuries and would be more useful as an impact sub. And Eden Hazard, for all of his ability, prefers playing from the left than down the middle.
Widespread changes are unlikely this weekend, with most first-choice players having been rested against Nottingham Forest last weekend, but David Luiz and Mateo Kovačić can probably expect to return to the starting XI. Pedro and Giroud are also options, but it would be no major surprise were Maurizio Sarri to persist with Callum Hudson-Odoi in the front three.
League the priority for Newcastle
Watching Rafael Benítez squirm is one of football’s great pleasures, and the Spaniard was in excellent form last weekend, trying to disguise feelings about Newcastle’s FA Cup draw with Blackburn. His mouth made a few positive noises about Matt Ritchie’s late equaliser, but his face told the true story: he was absolutely crestfallen about the prospect of a replay and – heaven forbid – even more games in the schedule.
You can complain all you like about the lack of ambition implied by that outlook. But Benítez is surely right to think that Newcastle are far from safe as far as the Premier League relegation picture goes: their November hot streak has disappeared in the rear-view mirror, and they’re just a couple of points off the dropzone. With games against Manchester City and Spurs to come in the next month, it could get worse before it gets better, too.
Having left most of his big names out last Saturday, Benítez should name a strong side here. Salomon Rondón and Ayoze Pérez will return in attack, with Martin Dúbravka, DeAndre Yedlin, Jamal Lascelles reinforcing the backline after a fortnight off.
The Magpies have struggled at Stamford Bridge in recent years, losing on their last six visits in all competitions and conceding 18 goals in the process. In the Premier League, it’s just one win in 23 games in west London, so little wonder Newcastle are rated as [16.5] outsiders.
Chelsea have greater quality all over the park – well, maybe not at the tip of the attack – and are likely winners, but are too short for our taste at [1.25]. Leicester and Southampton have both frustrated them at the Bridge in recent weeks, and with Newcastle likely to be fairly defensive, this is unlikely to be an easy assignment.
Our best angle here is to back the 0-0 half-time score. This has been the scoreline at the interval in four of Chelsea’s home league games so far, and they have certainly found early goals hard to come by in recent weeks: they’ve scored just once before the break in their last seven matches (all competitions).
10 of Newcastle’s matches have been goalless at half-time (all competitions), including their 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at St James’ Park in August, and Benítez will set his side up to keep things tight.
Hazard the main man
If Chelsea are to find a way through, Hazard is likely to lead the way. The Belgian has scored six goals and assisted one in five Premier League appearances at Stamford Bridge against Newcastle, and can be backed to notch at around [1.90].
This tool on the Sportsbook allows you to combine multiple picks on the same game. Here, for instance, you can back under 2.5 goals, the Chelsea win and Hazard to open the scoring at [7.68].
Jack Lang’s Premier League P/L, 2018/19
Source: Betfair Premier League