Chelsea salvaged a point late on against Manchester United last week, and Kevin Hatchard expects them to get a full return against Newcastle United...
"Chelsea haven't been winning regularly, but the performances have been steadily improving, and Newcastle have been awful on their travels."
Chelsea v Newcastle United
Saturday February 13, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports 1
Diego Costa's late equaliser against Manchester United last weekend was only worth a point, but it felt like it had plenty of extra value. It maintained Chelsea's unbeaten record since Guus Hiddink took charge - it's ten matches without defeat for the Dutchman in all competitions - and it showed the Blues are willing to fight until the final whistle. Chelsea have shown that resilience in each of their last two home games, scoring last-gasp levellers against both Everton and United.
Of course it would help if Hiddink's men stopped going behind in the first place, but they do look a more motivated and cohesive unit than they did in the final days of Jose Mourinho's reign. Key players have rediscovered their form, none more so than bulldozing forward Diego Costa. The Spanish international has scored seven goals in his last nine games, and although Hiddink insists he's done nothing special to motivate him, there has clearly been a revitalising effect. At the other end John Terry's impending departure seems to have sharpened his focus even more than usual, and I wonder if his contract situation will be revisited between now and the summer.
Chelsea could do with a fillip ahead of their Champions League clash with Paris Saint Germain, and while Hiddink admits they have been drawing too many games, the performances have been much better. Remember, when Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012, they emerged from the wreckage of the brief and antagonistic Andre Villas-Boas era. Could they do something similar again?
Young centre-back Kurt Zouma is out for the rest of the season after suffering a horrific knee injury against United, which is a real shame. Radamel Falcao will also miss out. After a January exit fell through, Loic Remy could return to face his former club.
The Magpies escaped the relegation zone last weekend, as they beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0. While the performance was encouraging - new signings Andros Townsend and Jonjo Shelvey were excellent - no-one on Tyneside should be getting carried away. Albion boss Tony Pulis described it as his side's worst display since he took charge, and yet the hosts only eked out a narrow victory.
Newcastle's home form is just about keeping them afloat at the moment, as their body of work on the road is wretched. They have lost nine of their 12 away games, and have scored just six times on their travels, which is the worst record in the division. In all competitions Steve McClaren's men have lost their last five away games, and they haven't won on the road since a curious 2-1 comeback win at Spurs in mid-December.
While Shelvey put on a passing masterclass against WBA, I can't see Chelsea giving the playmaker that kind of time and space on the ball, and that could limit the service to the likes of Giorginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic. In terms of injury news, McClaren may be able to call upon Jack Colback, Siem De Jong and Paul Dummett, but Chancel Mbemba is out.
Chelsea have only won two of their last eight Premier League games, so some people will look at their odds of 1.4640/85 and baulk. However, I think the performances have been improving and the hunger's been growing, and Chelsea's players will want to put their hands up for selection for that PSG game. It's also worth noting how bad Newcastle are on the road, and the fact they have lost their last three games at Stamford Bridge without scoring a single goal.
When Chelsea have won at home, they have tended to win well, with three of their four league victories coming via a margin of two goals. Six of Newcastle's nine road defeats have been by two goals or more, and I fancy backing Chelsea -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at 2.226/5.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
This is a tricky one. Overs is trading at 1.715/7, and four of Chelsea's last five PL home games have featured four goals or more. However, with a tally of just six goals on their travels, there's no guarantee that Newcastle will trouble the scorers. If they draw a blank, Chelsea would need to score three times to land the overs bet, and they've only scored three goals at home twice in the league this season.
I successfully tipped Diego Costa to score against Manchester United last week, and even though he is shorter this week at 1.865/6, I'm still happy to back him again.
On the Newcastle side, Townsend showed some great touches last week, and was desperately unlucky not to score with a sharp turn and shot that struck the post. He's a hefty 5.69/2.
Back Chelsea -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at 2.226/5
Back Diego Costa to score at 1.865/6
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