Premier League 17/18 Week 38: Newcastle United vs Chelsea – Lineups, Preview and Prediction

Chelsea chase their slim hopes of Champions League football with a trip to the North-East which pits them against their former manager

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15:00 BST, Sunday 13th May, St James’ Park (Newcastle, England)

Rafael Benitez looks to bring down the curtain on what can only be considered a successful season at St James’ Park by trying to bring down the curtain on Chelsea’s hopes of a top-four finish. Unable to climb any higher than their current 10th position, the Magpies are top of a clustered mid-table which has 6 teams within 1 win of their 41 point total. Not wanting to drop into the bottom half, the Magpies will need to avert their current run of four consecutive wins if they’re to cling onto their respectable placing.

Antonio Conte will also have his full attention tuned into how things finish. The Italian needs a Brighton victory if his side are to have any hope of climbing up the table, however, that’s only on condition his players can win this game too. With rumours still abound that this could be his final league game in charge of the Blues, Conte will need to motivate his players after they fell woefully short against the last newly-promoted side they faced.

Last Time Out

Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Newcastle United (Premier League)

The Magpies first match at Wembley in 18 years again proved to have an unhappy ending despite them carrying the most threat throughout the game. While Tottenham failed to find their rhythm in the game, Newcastle had theirs well in check but were missing some magic in front of goal.

Dwight Gayle was the biggest culprit for the visitors but Jonjo Shelvey, Ayoze Pérez and Jamaal Lascelles all had decent openings to score inside the first 45 minutes. But while they were lacking in attack, the Magpies comfortably dealt with Spurs in defence.

Martin Dubravka was left helpless for Harry Kane’s goal, however, a strike which heaped more emphasis on Newcastle finding a telling touch in attack. It proved just as elusive during the rest of the game though, leaving another Wembley defeat on their history books which have seen nothing else for 63 years.

Chelsea 1-1 Huddersfield Town (Premier League)

A limp performance produced a limp result for a heavily changed Chelsea side who failed to gel. Having made 6 changes to his starting lineup, Conte was forced to watch his team lose the chance of putting real pressure on Liverpool for the final game of the season.

A poor first half saw the Blues have plenty of possession but the only 2 chances of note were produced and they were wasted by Álvaro Morata and Antonio Rüdiger restively.

Despite a lack of attacking intent by the Terriers, they punished a mistake from Willy Caballero to take the lead within 5 minutes of the second half. 

Chelsea regained their composure and then parity in the game as the ball cannoned off Marcos Alonso’s face to even the contest. Despite pushing hard for a winning goal, the Blues could not beat an inspired Huddersfield defence who had Jonas Lössl performing heroics for them in goal.

Newcastle United Lineup

Benitez has a growing list of absentees with Kenedy (unable to face his parent club) and Islam Slimani (suspended) having both been returned to their respective clubs after joining the Magpies on loan in January. Jesús Gámez (ankle) Christian Atsu (knock) and Ciaran Clark (knee) will also be unavailable, however, Jacob Murphy could be the only change made to their recent trip to Wembley on Wednesday night.

Chelsea Lineup

There are no new injury problems for Conte so only David Luiz (knee) and Ethan Ampadu (ankle) remain unavailable for the Blues final league match. With the FA Cup in mind, Conte may try to start his three main strikers together in attack.

Key Battle: Dwight Gayle (Newcastle) vs Álvaro Morata (Chelsea)

Newcastle’s misfiring forward is 1 goal behind Ayoze Pérez’s haul of 6 league goals this season, averaging a goal around once every 380 minutes. Having succeeded the equally problematic Joselu as Benitez’s first choice striker, Gayle won’t be the first choice next August if he’s still with the Magpies then. After being reportedly close to making a move to a new club last January, Gayle will hope for his second goal against Chelsea this season to further his future prospects.

Another striker who has under-performed to expectations this season is Morata. The Spanish striker cost £60m last summer but could not shake off a wasteful image or the fact he is an ill-fit for a club who were reportedly only interested in signing Romelu Lukaku. With only 1 goal from his last 9 league starts, Morata has 1 less than Gayle during this same period and could also play this match with one eye on the future.

Talking Points

£10m Match

With the Premier League’s mid-table being so congested going into the final round of matches, Newcastle could potentially see themselves finish anywhere between 10th and 15th depending upon results around the country. 

With each step up in position in the table worth an extra £2m in prize money, this might see the Magpies lose 5 positions from their current placing and with it, £10m in prize money from the FA.

With budget’s likely to be tight and Benitez insisting that the club have plenty of shopping to do this summer, a £10m difference could make a substantial difference to his plans. 

How Benitez plans to inspire his players to a victory which could pay for their replacements join the club remains a mystery but Benitez has worked wonders already this season.

Steady improvements

Antonio Conte remains adamant that the current Chelsea side is a stronger proposition than the one which he took over 2 years ago. While that side had under-achieved amid the turmoil churned up in José Mourinho’s wake, this side, too, is falling short, although not by the same margin.

With talk of an overhaul of the squad being imminent this summer, Conte’s legacy is in danger of being white-washed if he leaves in the coming weeks. If he stays on to see through the final year of his contract, Conte must improve his team again if his time in London is to be considered a success, despite them winning the Premier League title last season and potentially the FA Cup this year.

Prediction: Newcastle United 2-1 Chelsea

The final match of Benitez’s previous Premier League campaign with Newcastle saw them demolish Tottenham 5-1 at St James’ to end Spurs hopes of a higher league finish and a similar story could unfold this weekend.

Conte will want his players primed and ready for their FA Cup final but Newcastle will be focused on delivering a result which their recent form has merited. With the home crowd behind them, Newcastle could spoil Chelsea’s party and put an end to their run of 5 games unbeaten (W4, D1) against Newcastle.

(Photo Credit: Reuters/Dylan Martinez)