Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
St. James’ Park/May 13, 2018
This is our last Premier League game of the season but it’s our penultimate match of the 2017/2018 season with the FA Cup final against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United team still to come later this month. There’s not much riding on this match for either side with ushaving let slip the slim chance that we may have of finishing in the top four with the draw against Huddersfield Town on Wednesday. As it stands only a Brighton and Hove Albion victory at Anfield against Liverpool coupled with a win at St. James’ Park for us will see us finish in the top four with Liverpool being the team to miss out except of course if they get the better of Real Madrid in Kiev on Saturday 26th of May. Newcastle don’t have much to play for on Sunday but pride having since escaped the jaws of relegation but knowing Rafa Benitez he’ll put in his best possible eleven to make it as difficult as possible for his former employers.
This match will be the third time Chelsea has faced Newcastle United in the final game of a Premier League season and if we’re to go by events in the previous two matches then a draw is in the offing with the two previous matches ending in draws – 1-1 at St. James’ Park during our title-winning 2004/2005 season and 2-2 at Stamford Bridge during Carlo Ancelotti’s last season in charge on the Blues in the 2010/2011 season and on Sunday both might just be content with the shared spoils. Chelsea and Newcastle United have faced off a combined 142 times prior to Sunday’s meeting with Chelsea recording 71 wins, 39 draws and 52 losses. Stamford Bridge hasn’t always been a happy hunting ground for Newcastle United and they sought to take advantage of their vociferous fans when Chelsea visits the St. James’ Park and it has particularly worked for them in recent times with the Geordies winning three of the last five matches in which they have played host to Chelsea (L1 D1) but Chelsea did avoid defeat on our last trip to St. James’ Park with a pair of late goals from Ramires and Willian securing the point. Chelsea has however won the last three encounters in this rivalry but all those victories came in the comfort of Stamford Bridge. Rafa Benitez has faced the Blues twice since leaving the Stamford Bridge hot seat – both with Newcastle this season – and has two losses to show for it so he’ll be looking to get one over his former employers if given the chance on Sunday.
I must confess that I was a little miffed at the number of changes Antonio Conte made to the team that played against Liverpool for Wednesday night’s match against the Terriers and so I wasn’t in the least surprised by our attitude in the game and with that result we can all but kiss the UCL goodbye for another season at least. In football though it’s never over until it’s over so I’m holding on to that tiniest bit of hope even if it’s such a long shot. I don’t know how Antonio Conte will set his team up or the personnel for that matter but one thing I’m sure of is he won’t be able to sleep if Chris Houghton’s men were to somehow beat Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday and Chelsea are not able to capitalize because he again messed up the team too much like it happened on Wednesday night. With the FA Cup coming so close to this match, I expect to see at 80% of the team to take to the pitch at Wembley get a run out at St. James’ Park on Sunday. I expect Thibaut Courtois, who Conte reported is in contention for a place in the team on Sunday, to return between the posts shielded by the back three of Gary Cahill, Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta. Victor Moses will most certainly come back into the team for Sunday’s game with Emerson likely to occupy the opposite flank even if that’s a long shot. If I were Conte I’ll go with the tested and trusted trio of Eden Hazard, Olivier Giroud and Willian to lead the attack on Sunday but I’m not Conte so we’ll have to see if he keeps faith with his prodigy or lines up differently in attack.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Emerson; Willian, Hazard, Giroud.
Last Five Matches: DWWWW
Injuries: David Luiz (Knee/ Fitness) –Doubt; Ethan Ampadu (Ankle) – Out; Marcos Alonso (Suspended) –Out.
Rafa Benitez will want to get a performance out of his team on Sunday. Since securing their Premier League status, Newcastle seem to have hit a brick wall with the loss against Tottenham Hotspurs at Wembley on Wednesday night making it their fourth on the trot and the Geordies will be looking to end the season on a positive note. Jacob Murphy will be the obvious choice to replace the ineligible but impactful Kenedy who can’t play against his parent club with that likely to be the only change to the team that started at Wembley and played so well for spells in that match. Martin Dubravka will keep goal protected by the quartet of DeAndre Yedlin, Florent Lejeune, Jamaal Lascelles and Paul Dummett. Mohammed Diame and Jonjo Shelvey are most likely to be the pair chosen to anchor the midfield, in Rafa Benitez’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, like they did at Wembley on Wednesday night. Jacob Murphy, Ayoze Perez and Matt Ritchie will provide support for lone striker Dwight Gayle.
Dubravka; Yedlin, Lejeune, Lascelles, Dummett; Diame, Shelvey; Murphy, Perez, Ritchie; Gayle.
Last 5 matches: LLLLW
Injuries: Ciaran Clark (Knee) – Out; Christian Atsu (Knee) – Out.
Olivier Giroud vs. Jamaal Lascelles
Olivier Giroud will certainly relish the prospect of testing himself against one of the brightest stars of the Premier League. It’s not often you see a 24-year old captain such a big club as Newcastle United however that’s the reality of Lascelle’s life, but the Englishman will not have it all his own way on Sunday with the physical Giroud.
Eden Hazard vs. DeAndre Yedlin
Surprisingly Eden Hazard was left out of the starting eleven on Wednesday night but the Belgian will likely be restored to the team for the trip to St. James’ Park and should that be the case he’ll come up against this American fullback who’s a tireless runner and a tough tackler. The former Sunderland man though will not relish this battle with the form the mercurial Belgian is in.
Matt Ritchie vs. Victor Moses
This will be a reverse of the battle in the reverse fixture back in December when Matt Ritchie was playing as the left wingback for Rafa Benitez’s team that day and Moses had a field day on the left wing. With Ritchie likely to be restored to his more familiar role at left wing the role will be reversed and Victor Moses must bring his A-game to stand a chance against Ritchie on Sunday..
Three points for the Blues on Sunday can still work wonders especially if we get an early goal and Liverpool doesn’t against Brighton. Even though the team’s attention may have turned to Wembley and Manchester United I still hold on to the faint hope of us finishing in the top four. Whatever the result on Sunday always remember to Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Standard UK
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