Hello and welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the Premier League meeting between Chelsea
and Newcastle United
at Stamford Bridge. The Blues can tighten their grip on fourth place with victory this evening following fifth-placed Arsenal's surprise 1-0 loss at West Ham United in the top flight's early kickoff, while Newcastle are in desperate need of points to claw clear of the relegation zone.
There are five Premier League matches currently taking place, and as things stand Newcastle are now in the bottom three of the division. The picture is far clearer from Chelsea's perspective - they can move six points clear of Arsenal with victory on home soil and within a point of third-placed Tottenham Hotspur, who play host to Manchester United in their game in hand on Sunday.
CHELSEA TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic; Willian, Hazard, Pedro
SUBS: Caballero, Christensen, Emerson, Ampadu, Barkley, Hudson-Odoi, Giroud
Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri
has made three changes to his starting lineup from the 1-0 loss to Tottenham in midweek, bringing in David Luiz, Mateo Kovacic and Pedro. Kovacic has recovered from illness, which restricted him to a substitute appearance at Wembley a few days ago, to take the place of Ross Barkley, while a fit-again Pedro is in for Callum Hudson-Odoi and Andres Christensen drops out for Luiz's return.
Hudson-Odoi is dominating the transfer columns at the moment and the youngster will feel disappointed to have been overlooked for inclusion today, having performed well against Spurs when given a rare start. Instead it is down to Willian and the returning Pedro to provide support for Eden Hazard, who will retain his central-striking role. It is not a position the Belgium international is fond of, but Sarri does not trust the benched Olivier Giroud and the injured Alvaro Morata.
The word is that Morata is struggling with a hamstring injury, keeping him out of the games with Tottenham and Newcastle. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is another injury absentee and Cesc Fabregas is now officially a Monaco player, leaving Sarri with just Barkley to provide midfield support. No wonder the Blues have been linked with an array of central midfielders this week! Cesar Azpilicueta will skipper the home side today.
NEWCASTLE UNITED TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Dubravka; Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune; Clark, Hayden, Longstaff, Atsu, Ritchie; Perez; Rondon
SUBS: Woodman, Sterry, Manquillo, Fernandez, Schar, Murphy, Joselu
In terms of the visitors, Rafael Benitez
has handed a first Premier League start to Sean Longstaff. The 21-year-old is brought into a packed midfield, which includes DeAndre Yedlin and former Chelsea man Christian Atsu at wing-back. Elsewhere, Florian Lejeune comes in for a first top-flight start of the season after recovering from a knee injury, and there is also a place in the XI for Ciaran Clark
at the back.
Fabian Schar, Mohamed Diame and the injured Paul Dummett are the players to make way from the 2-0 loss to Manchester United last time out in the Premier League. A big call from Benitez to bring in young and inexperienced midfielder Longstaff, then, and perhaps his way of sending out a message to owner Mike Ashley - more quality is needed throughout this Newcastle side.
There is no place for Kenedy in the matchday squad today as he is ineligible against his parent club - a blow for the visitors, as the winger has started 14 Premier League games this term and come off the bench in four more. There is also no Jonjo Shelvey because of injury, while Karl Darlow is nursing an injury and will play no part. Salomon Rondon will continue to lead the line, with the Venezuelan scoring each of United's last three away goals.
Maurizio Sarri and Rafael Benitez make three changes apiece on this return to Premier League action. David Luiz, Kovacic and Pedro are restored to the Blues' starting lineup from the 1-0 EFL Cup loss to Tottenham Hotspur in midweek, while Newcastle recall Clark and hand first Premier League starts of the season to Longstaff and Lejeune.
PREVIOUS MEETINGS! Chelsea have won their last six home meetings with Newcastle United in all competitions, scoring 13 goals and conceding just twice during that sequence since a 2-0 loss in May 2012. That defeat nearly seven years ago was the only time the Blues have lost in 23 Premier League games against the Magpies at Stamford Bridge, in fact, winning 16 and drawing the other six.
Chelsea have gone off the boil in recent weeks, dropping points in back-to-back league games here to Leicester City and Southampton. That most recent Premier League outing against the Saints on January 2 finished in a stalemate, shortly after being stunned by Leicester, who left here with all three points. The pressure is therefore on Sarri's men this evening to get their campaign back on track on home soil.
The Blues did see off Nottingham Forest 2-0 here in the FA Cup a week ago through a couple of Morata goals, but any hope they had of building some momentum evaporated with the 1-0 loss to Spurs in the EFL Cup. Attention now switches back to the Premier League, with a third-placed finish effectively the best the Blues can hope for at this stage. Leaders Liverpool are now 13 points better off at the summit after playing a game more, while Man City have six points more.
Sarri recently stated that qualifying for the Champions League would make this a successful first season for him in West London, but he may well have to succeed in one of the cups for supporters to agree. The Blues, despite losing 1-0 to Spurs in the first leg of their semi final on Tuesday, are still in with a shout of winning the EFL Cup, and they also have favourable last-32 ties in the FA Cup and Europa League.
The 2018-19 campaign could still very much go one of two ways for Sarri's charges, then, but we are now approaching crunch time and it will soon become clear if they have the quality to continue competing on four fronts. In terms of their Premier League aspirations, Chelsea have won four of their last six matches, though they have dropped five points here in recent weeks which has allowed Man United and Arsenal to close the gap.
Arsenal could have seriously upped the pressure on Chelsea earlier today, but their loss at the London Stadium - Declan Rice scoring the only goal of the game - means that the Blues are three points clear with this game in hand to play. Man United have a tricky trip to Tottenham on Sunday, meanwhile, so victory for Sarri's side today and they will be in a very strong position in the race for the final Champions League qualification spot.
DID YOU KNOW? Chelsea's tally of 44 points is a joint-high for a fourth-placed side at this stage of a Premier League campaign. Only Arsenal, two seasons ago, have failed to finish in the top three of the division after accruing this many points after 21 matches.
There is no doubt that Chelsea need a new striker in the final few weeks of the January transfer window, with AC Milan's on-loan striker Gonzalo Higuain clearly their top choice. Sarri worked with the Argentina international at Napoli and will be confident that he can get the best out of him in a new country - anything will be an improvement on Morata at this moment in time. For now, though, it is a case of sticking with Hazard through the middle.
Chelsea have gone back-to-back games without scoring a home league goal - they last went three in a row without netting in November 1993. In their last 10 top-flight outings, meanwhile, just 11 goals have been scored, emphasising that point about a new goalscorer desperately being needed. Hazard, despite his protestations, must lead the line today, and the Belgian forward has scored six goals in his last five Premier League home matches against today's opponents.
Chelsea have the joint-most points of any fourth-placed side at this stage of a Premier League campaign, accumulating 44 points from 21 matches. The Blues look well positioned to hold off Arsenal and Man United to finish in a Champions League qualification berth, and in the words of Maurizio Sarri that will constitute a good season. After losing to Leicester and drawing with Southampton, however, the pressure is on to return to winning ways on their own patch today.
Newcastle head into this match winless in five games in all competitions and they have just one win in nine outings overall. That follows a run of three successive victories in November, with victories over Watford, Bournemouth and Burnley seemingly lifting them out of relegation trouble. Since then, though, just six points from a possible 24 have followed, and they are now in real threat of dropping into the Championship for a third time since Mike Ashley took control of the club.
RESULTS! Burnley and Southampton picked up victories over Fulham and Leicester respectively in the 3pm kickoffs to climb the table, while Cardiff and Huddersfield played out a goalless draw in South Wales. Those results means that Newcastle are now back in the relegation zone in 18th place, one point adrift of Cardiff and Southampton.
Palace lost 2-1 at home to Watford earlier today and are by no means safe, so for now it looks as though seven teams are embroiled in a relegation dogfight. Newcastle are very much among those sides desperately attempting to stay afloat of the dotted line, and with games against Chelsea, Man City and Tottenham to come in three of their next four matches - a huge home game against Cardiff being the other - they have to start finding points from somewhere.
Newcastle also drew 1-1 with Blackburn Rovers in round three of the FA Cup seven days ago to prolong Benitez's misery, setting up a replay that he could do without ahead of the visit of relegation rivals Cardiff in a week's time. Matt Ritchie struck late from the penalty spot in that one to cancel out Bradley Dack's headed opener, and in the end the Magpies were happy to accept a draw as it does at least keep their cup hopes alive.
With his side sitting in the bottom three of the division, Benitez can be forgiven for feeling that he took the wrong decision to stay on last summer. The Spaniard had big-money offers from the Far East to jump ship - and there is no doubt Mike Ashley would have accepted a large sum to part company with Benitez - but he stayed loyal to the Magpies and his reputation could take a major hit. In many ways, the January window could make or break United's season.
Newcastle's only win in their last eight league matches came against bottom side Huddersfield. They are winless in their last 12 away matches against the established top six, meanwhile, losing each of the last nine. To continue the negative theme, United's tally of 21 points is their joint-lowest ever after 21 matches of a Prem campaign - the same number that they had in 2015-16 when dropping into the Championship.
The visitors have scored four goals in their last eight Premier League matches and have just four second-half goals to their name all season. To put that into some context, Chelsea have netted 21 times in the second 45 minutes. Whether it is scoring goals or keeping the opposition out, United quite simply have not been good enough - November aside - during Benitez's third full season at the helm. That has to change over the remaining four months.
With kickoff at Stamford Bridge now less than five minutes away, let us check out some pre-match thoughts from both camps.
Maurizio Sarri: "As you know very well I am not involved in the market. I spoke with the club and the club knows very well my opinion. In my opinion we need two players. Then it depends on the club decision. I don't know anything about the market day by day or minute by minute."
Rafa Benitez: "Last January, we were in a difficult position, but we started winning and we finished 10th. It's a big city and it's a massive club. Some people say you have to do this and do that, but the reality is that when we work together and we are united, we are stronger. We saw that in the Championship and we saw that last season."
Both managers are desperate to get their hands on a new player or two over the next few weeks, with Chelsea targeting a striker and a central midfielder. Newcastle's survival hopes could well depend on whether Mike Ashley finds the funds to sign at least one new player - Benitez rightly pointing out that his side pushed on in the second half of 2017-18 when bringing in Martin Dubravka
KICKOFF: Chelsea, looking to push further clear of Manchester United and Arsenal in fourth place, get us up and running at Stamford Bridge against relegation-threatened Newcastle United.
Lejeune catches Willian on the foot and the Brazilian looks in a little pain. Hudson-Odoi would be the obvious replacement if Willian is unable to continue, but he looks as though he will carry on for now. Chelsea seeing a lot of the ball early on.
The home side are going to have to remain patient this evening if they are to find a way through. Newcastle, as we often see against the big six, are focusing almost entirely on keeping Chelsea out. The good news for them is that Leicester and Southampton have both achieved that here over the last month.
Alonso's low cross into the box is cleared by Lascelles. Jorginho may well set another Premier League record for passes today if Newcastle are going to continue to let him dictate play from a deep position.
It has been a very quiet start to the match in West London. As expected, Chelsea have completely dominated possession - seeing close to 70% of the ball so far - but they have not exactly done much when on the ball.
GOAL! CHELSEA 1-0 NEWCASTLE UNITED (PEDRO)
From their first real attack of the match, Chelsea make the breakthrough. It was as simple as you like, really, as Pedro took David Luiz's deep pass in his stride after getting in front of Clark, before lifting it over the head of Dubravka.
Benitez will be furious with the ease of that Chelsea goal. The run from Pedro was good, and David Luiz's pass was spot on, but it should not have been that easy to score. Newcastle's gameplan has gone out of the window inside 10 minutes.
Pedro has now scored in both of his Premier League appearances against Newcastle for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, scoring three in total. Chelsea have had one attempt at target in the opening 15 minutes and have one goal to show for it.
Far too easy for Chelsea in the opening quarter of the match. Newcastle have barely got forward all evening, which is not good enough when a goal down. Benitez clearly intends to keep things tight until the final 15 minutes or so.
There has still been just that one shot all evening, both on target and off, which came via Pedro for Chelsea's opening goal. Kante is played in down the right but cannot get away from Clark, winning his side just a throw-in high up the pitch.
Sarri would like to see a second goal. Newcastle have remained compact at the back since falling behind and, while they have barely managed to get the ball forward so far, the unpredictable nature of football means that they could easily nick a goal.
This match has not really go going at all so far. Chelsea lead through the only attacking move of the contest at either end of the field. Having gone two home league games without netting before today, Sarri will be happy enough.
YELLOW CARD! Azpilicueta goes to ground under a challenge from Ritchie. Hard to tell if there was even any contact - maybe just a little. Referee Chair Kavanagh warrants it worthy of a free kick to Chelsea and a yellow for Ritchie.
CLOSE! David Luiz gets on the end of the free kick and probably would have found the net if not for a small deflection off Lascelles. The referee clearly did not spot the little touch as a goal kick is instead awarded.
SAVE! The match has finally sparked into life over the past few minutes. Newcastle have put together a couple of attacks, the latest of which ends with Lejeune volleying the ball through a sea of bodies from 25 yards, but it was aimed pretty much right at Kepa.
Chelsea have not really had to get out of first gear in the opening half an hour. Newcastle are certainly more involved in the match now, though, and the Blues could do with another goal to add to Pedro's early opener.
Newcastle are the side on top at Stamford Bridge all of a sudden. Rondon bursts into the box but miscues his shot from 15 yards, sending it high and wide of the target. Chelsea need to wake up or else they could be pegged back by the Prem strugglers.
SAVE! A simple stop for Dubravka to make, as he gets across to Pedro's drive from 25 yards. The match is going through another quiet spell now, with Chelsea dominating possession but being restricted to attempts from range.
CHANCE! Newcastle's best chance of the match so far falls to Perez, who cannot find the target with just Kepa to beat. Rondon got ahead of Luiz to flick on the ball and Perez, under pressure from covering defender Azpilicueta, sliced wide of Kepa's target.
Chelsea may have dominated possession in the first half, but in terms of clear-cut chances it is one opportunity apiece now. The difference being that Pedro took his, whereas Perez sliced his opening a couple of minutes ago.
Atsu shows some good trickery to get past David Luiz, but Pedro got back to take the ball off his opponent at the expense of a corner. The set-piece is aimed into a good area, and David Luiz is forced to miscue it behind for another corner.
GOAL! CHELSEA 1-1 NEWCASTLE UNITED (CIARAN CLARK)
Newcastle make the most of their spell on top by levelling up at Stamford Bridge! From their second corner in the space of a minute, Clark gets in front of David Luiz and powers his header past Kepa. A player on the post would have kept that out.
CHANCE! Benitez is fuming down on the touchline. Seconds after Newcastle equalised, Willian was slotted clean through on goal, but he cannot find a way through. Up the other end, Ritchie pulls his volley a good seven yards wide of the target.
The match has a completely different feel to it all of a sudden as we enter the final seconds of the first half. Chelsea failed to really push on after edging in front and now they have to find a way through after the restart thanks to Clark's headed equaliser.
HALF TIME: CHELSEA 1-1 NEWCASTLE UNITED
There are some audible jeers around Stamford Bridge as Chelsea's players leave the field. The Blues took the lead through Pedro's strike nine minutes in, but Clark equalised five minutes before the interval and it is therefore all to play for in the second half.
After failing to score in their last two home league matches - a 1-0 defeat to Leicester City and 0-0 draw with Southampton either side of Christmas - it took the Blues just nine minutes to edge in front here. From the game's first attacking move, Pedro got in front of Matt Ritchie and Ciaran Clark to lift David Luiz's deep pass over the head of Martin Dubravka.
Chelsea were cruising their way through the opening half an hour of the match, with Pedro coming close to a second goal from his 25-yard drive, which Dubravka was equal to, and Luiz's header taking a small touch on its way wide of the target. Maurizio Sarri's men would pay for their failure to create anything clear cut, though, as Newcastle soon started to grow into the match.
Florian Lejeune fired a long-range volley through a sea of bodies for Kepa Arrizabalaga to make his first save, while Ayoze Perez sliced wide of the target after latching on to Salomon Rondon's flicked pass. The leveller then arrived five minutes before half time, as Clark made amends for being caught out for Chelsea's opener by getting in front of Luiz and powering a corner into the bottom corner.
CHELSEA SUBS: Caballero, Christensen, Emerson, Ampadu, Barkley, Hudson-Odoi, Giroud
NEWCASTLE UNITED SUBS: Woodman, Sterry, Manquillo, Fernandez, Schar, Murphy, Joselu
KICKOFF: Newcastle, protecting what would be a precious point, get us back up and running in West London. No changes made at the interval by either manager, so it is as you were in that regard.
SAVE! Big, big save from Dubravka early in this second half to keep his side on level terms. The ball was worked for Pedro and the Spanish forward powered a shot towards the bottom corner, but Dubravka was equal to it. The keeper made a mess of the corner, only for David Luiz to miscue his shot at goal.
Some sloppy play from Pedro takes the sting out of Chelsea's play. The hosts have made a positive start to the second half, but so to have Newcastle. We have a proper game on our hands at Stamford Bridge now!
Hudson-Odoi and Giroud have been sent to warm up by Sarri. There is far more intensity to Chelsea's game in this second half, no doubt helped by that shock response from Newcastle five minutes or so before half time.
Chelsea are starting to build some momentum now, but a couple of sloppy touches - including one from Hazard - is seeing them left frustrated. This match is crying out for someone like Hudson-Odoi to come off the bench and grab it by the scruff of the neck.
The Blues are getting nowhere fast at the moment. The biggest disappointment for Sarri's men has been their failure to create too many clear-cut openings across the opening 56 minutes. Willian drives towards the byline but Lejeune gets across to concede a corner.
GOAL! CHELSEA 2-1 NEWCASTLE UNITED (WILLIAN)
Pedro really should have been beating Dubravka when picked out in a glorious position in front of goal, but it did not matter in the end as Willian put Chelsea in front a minute later. The Brazilian forward looked for all the world as though he was going to drive to the byline - instead he cut inside and curled an unsaveable shot past Dubravka.
Chelsea deserve that second goal after stepping things up in the second half. There is still half an hour to play at Stamford Bridge, though, and Newcastle will still fancy their chances of taking a point back to the North-East.
Hazard created that goal for Willian, meaning that he is the first Chelsea player to score and assist 10 goals in a Premier League season since Juan Mata in 2012-13. Perez has just gone down under contract from Kante on the edge of the box, but there was not enough in it.
YELLOW CARD! Newcastle are far more willing to get forward now, but at the same time Chelsea are looking very threatening when turning over possession. Play has now stopped as Jorginho tugged at Rondon's shirt to earn the game's second booking. Barkley is on for Kovacic in the break in play.
CHANCE! Not for the first time today, Dubravka is caught in no man's land. Willian gets on the end of a ball over the top and attempts to lift it over the keeper, much like Pedro did earlier in the match, but he gets a little touch to it.
In attempting to keep the ball into play, Lascelles runs straight into the advertising boards behind the goal. The centre-back has a big cut to his leg but is eager to carry on. Benitez has all three subs available to make in the remaining 22 minutes.
After an entertaining 20-minute spell at the start of the second half, the match has gone awfully quiet over the last five minutes. Chelsea lead 2-1 and are looking comfortable at the moment, though Newcastle have had their moments today and should not be written off.
Chelsea win a free kick 30 yards from goal, which David Luiz wins the right to take. The ball clears the wall but does not have enough dip on it to trouble Dubravka. We are now into the final 20 minutes at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea have had marginally less of the ball in the second half compared to the first, but they have looked more threatening in the final third. Pedro has missed two chances and Willian converted his opportunity, which is ultimately looking like being the winner.
Willian's curler just before the hour mark may well prove to be the winner in West London. The match has gone a bit stale now, so no surprise to see Hudson-Odoi strip down ready to come on for the closing stages.
Newcastle are enjoying their best period of the match in terms of possession. The visitors have kept hold of it for a good couple of minutes, preventing Chelsea from making their second change of the match. They need to get it into the box, though!
CHELSEA SUB! Hudson-Odoi, who dropped to the bench for today's match, is brought on with 10 minutes to go. Pedro is the man to make way, having had a decent evening on the whole - the Spaniard scored one but missed two good chances.
Newcastle are refusing to give up, setting up what will be a tense conclusion to the match. The Magpies hit back late on in the first half and their supporters are holding out hope for something similar at the end of the second.
NEWCASTLE UNITED SUBS! Ritchie's shot from distance fails to find the target. With that, Benitez brings on Manquillo and Murphy for Perez and Yedlin. Time is fast running out for the visitors to find a second equaliser of the game.
The home fans are very nervous as we enter the final throes. Newcastle have seen more of the ball over the past five minutes, but they have not troubled Chelsea's backline at all. A third goal for the Blues would kill things off for good.
CLOSE! Rondon gets on the end of a cross towards the back post, but he only succeeds in heading the ball into the ground and wide of the target. Kepa was wrong-footed and was grateful to see it drift wide. Giroud is now on for Hazard through the middle.
Four minutes have been added on at the end of the match - still time for Newcastle to snatch a draw. The Magpies have put up a better fight than expected today, but they are now on the brink of a 10th successive loss away to a big-six side.
Azpilicueta gets the ball into the box, but Lascelles blocks the cross before one of Giroud or Willian can tap it in. Just two minutes of the game to go in West London - it is looking as though Chelsea will move six points clear of Arsenal in fourth.
FULL TIME: CHELSEA 2-1 NEWCASTLE UNITED
Chelsea move six points clear of Arsenal in fourth place with a 2-1 win over Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge. The Blues were pegged back before the interval as Ciaran Clark powered a header into the bottom corner after Pedro had edged them in front with a well-taken finish, but Willian scored what proved to be the winner shortly before the hour mark with his curler into the far corner.
That concludes Sports Mole
's live text coverage of events from Stamford Bridge. An on-the-whistle report can be found by clicking here
, and be sure to join us again tomorrow for updates from the huge Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. See you then!