Can Rafa quell the St. James' Park toxicity with a win over Chelsea?
Newcastle will want to kick-start their season sooner rather than later. They’ll be keen to forget their trip to South Wales – where they missed an injury-time penalty against Cardiff and drew 0-0 – and the visit of Chelsea will not fill Magpies fans with confidence.
Chelsea’s start under Maurizio Sarri has been very encouraging; disposing of Huddersfield and a pulsating 3-2 victory over Arsenal have been full of positives for the Blues, but they travel to St. James’ Park having not won there since 2011.
Rafa Benitez has to contend with his own restless fans – admittedly their grievances lie with Mike Ashley, not him – which often translates to poor showings on the pitch; how many times have we heard the cliché of Newcastle fans “getting on the players’ backs”?
Newcastle actually played well in their opening-day defeat to Spurs, which they lost 2-1, and were good value for the goal too. I was previously concerned they don’t possess the sufficient firepower to enjoy a season free of relegation worry – and against Cardiff they showed this is still an issue – but the nature of Sarri’s style will give the opposition chances. Chelsea could have conceded four or five against Arsenal, had it not been for some poor finishing from the Gunners.
My first tip is for both teams to score. I’m expecting Chelsea to win on Sunday and end their seven-year-long wait for a win at St. James’, but Newcastle breached a very solid Spurs team at home, and I see them having chances to do so against Chelsea.
I’ve said this a number of times now, but it’s surely time Eden Hazard will start for Chelsea! Their long-time talisman has not started under Sarri, but his tenure outside the starting XI is on borrowed time.
Hazard has scored six times against Newcastle – more than any other opponent barring West Brom – so he is no stranger to finding the back of the net against the Magpies.
If he is reinstated into Sarri’s starting team, he’ll be desperate to mark this return with a goal, which could spell bad news for Newcastle. When Hazard is firing on all cylinders, there aren’t many better players in the world.
Hazard to score and Chelsea to win looks an interesting proposition.
My final tip is an absolute corker: over 1.5 goals scored, Chelsea to win, over 3.5 Chelsea corners and 1.5 Newcastle cards.
If Chelsea win, they’ll almost certainly have over 3 corners, so no problem there.
You’ll rarely see matches finish with fewer than 2 goals when Sarri teams are concerned, that part of the bet should be a banker too.
Regarding Newcastle amassing over 1.5 bookings – they had two players booked against Spurs and three against Cardiff (including a red), so their discipline clearly isn’t the best. Hazard, if he plays, is also a magnet for attracting cynical fouls, and I can easily see Rafa’s side picking up a few bookings that way.
It’s a four-part bet which is a nice one to keep your eye on this Sunday afternoon.