By Tim Harrison
With cup fever raging on all fronts, it’s easy to overlook the fixtures that really matter – the bread-and-butter Premier League games that ultimately define the season.
Newcastle come to Stamford Bridge for the 5.30pm kick-off game on Saturday, with former manager Rafa Benitez sure to get a warm reception. Warm as in the fires of Hell.
Quite why some Chelsea fans feel such hostility towards the Spaniard is a source of bafflement. Parachuted in to steady the ship after Robbie Di Matteo’s sacking, he won the Europa League.
Yet the fact that he once managed Liverpool still seems to be enough to persuade many that his European achievement counts for nothing.
Benitez is currently in dire straits, with the Magpies just above the drop zone. He’ll have been studying recent games at the Bridge to work out how to nullify the Blues’ threat – particularly the frustrating 0-0 against Southampton and the defeat by Leicester just before Christmas.
If Chelsea win on Saturday it could send the Toon Army down into the relegation places, with games against Manchester City and Spurs just round the corner.
On-loan winger Kenedy is ineligible to play against the Blues. Having featured in six of Newcastle’s last seven games, that’s a blow.
The bitterness and jibes that will be directed at Benitez in the away dug-out will strengthen, not weaken, his resolve to at least grind out a point. Expect fireworks.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.
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