Although Diego Costa will be back from suspension for Chelsea, they will be without Nemanja Matic, whom picked up his third yellow card of the season in the 3-0 win over Tottenham on Wednesday. There is a doubt also over Gary Cahill, who was forced off at half-time in that game after clashing heads with Jan Vertonghen in the first half. Newcastle’s injury crisis, meanwhile, is profound, with 10 players out. The goalkeeper Tim Krul has an ankle problem and will again be replaced by Rob Elliot, Fabrcico Colocini is out, as are Sami Ameobi, Ronaldo Aarons , Siep De Jong and Davide Santon. They will, though, have Jack Colback and Moussa Sissokho back from suspension.
Chelsea seem not to relish trips to the north-east. The only team they’ve failed to score against this season is Sunderland last week, while last season they scraped a 4-3 win in the league at the Stadium of Light – almost entirely because of a brilliant performance from Eden Hazard – in the league and lost in the Ciatl One Cup, while being beaten 2-0 by Newcastle. It’s indicative of the changes at Chelsea that only four of the side that lost that day are certain to start on Saturday and one of them, Oscar, will almost certainly be used in a different position. Loic Remy, who scored Newcastle’s second, of course, is now likely to be on the Chelsea bench. It was a very different story at Stamford Bridge, where an Hazard hat-trick inspired Chelsea to a 3-0 win. Neither Mathieu Debuchy nor Mapou Yanga-M’Biwa, the full-backs he tormented, though, are still at Newcastle.
Is there a more mystifying team than Newcastle? They didn’t win any of their first seven, won their next five, then lost at West Ham and drew at Burnley. Although the return of Colback and Sissokho should help avoid the sort of tepid sterility that characterised their performance against Burnley, there’s simply no way of knowing what mood will take them. They could give Chelsea a game, or they could end up capitulating. The temptation must be to push Ayoze Perez further forward with Sissokoho operating as a number 10, which would mean Papiss Cisse missing out.
Chelsea’s options at the back of midfield have been limited by their summer business. With no Matic, and Frank Lampard released and David Luiz sold, the choice is a straight one between Mikel John Obi or, more likely, Ramires – although he had a notably poor game at St James’ Park last season. Certainly if Cahill misses out, well though Kurt Zouma has done when asked to fill in, there will be a sense of unfamiliarity and perhaps vulnerability at Chelsea’s core. Two things, though, play in their favour: firstly that their Champions League game next week, at home to Sporting, is of no consequence to them whatsoever. They are though at the top of their group and so can rest as many players as they want (not that Jose Mourinho has been particularly inclined to rotation this season). Their other great strength is Oscar’s tackling. While Matic has won the ball and Fabregas has created, Oscar has done a superb job of setting the tone: if Chelsea push on, he can create, but if they are pushed back, he is surprisingly adept at winning the ball back, making 2.4 tackles per game in the league this season.
HAZARD v JANMAAT
Hazard conjured Chelsea’s first goal against Spurs and destroyed two Newcastle full-backs this season. This time, he’ll be up against Daryl Janmaat, who has performed a key attacking role for Newcastle this season, scoring one and setting up three. According to whoscored.com, the Dutch full-back has made 2.9 tackles and 2.3 interceptions per game this season, a high degree of ball-winning, but there must be a doubt about how happy he is when players run at him. He’s been dribbled past 0.8 times, which suggests Hazard could prosper if he can isolate him.
The 6.60 available on Newcastle to win looks crazily long at first sight: Newcastle, after all, have won five of their last seven Premier League games, are at home, and won this fixture last season. Even with Chelsea as imperious as they have been, and seriously contemplating an unbeaten season, it feels that there’s some value there, although it may lie in the Asian lines. Newcastle +1.25 at 1.69 may be the way to go, a cautious investment in Newcastle not collapsing – although they are certainly capable of doing that.
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