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Chelsea’s last hope of securing a UEFA Champions League qualifying spot rests on Sunday’s Premier League curtain call away to Newcastle United, where Rafa Benitez will look to stop his old team taking fourth.
The fifth-placed Blues travel to St. James Park with two points between them and Liverpool in fourth, and three points are needed in the northeast if Antonio Conte’s men are to have any chance of securing a top-four finish.
Benitez’s Magpies have lost their last four in succession, but Chelsea also need Liverpool to drop points in their home clash against Brighton & Hove Albion to have any chance at stealing in last-minute.
Chelsea are already assured a place in next season’s UEFA Europa League but won’t want to settle for a spot in Europe’s secondary contest while the slightest chance is there to make it to the big show.
Read on for all the latest team news ahead of Sunday’s season-ending showcase, where Chelsea stand as one of the few top-flight teams with something substantial left to fight for.
Date: Sunday, May 13
Time: 3 p.m. BST/10 a.m. ET
Venue: St James’ Park, Newcastle
TV Info: Sky Sports Premier League (UK), NBCSN (U.S.)
One particularly positive piece of news for Chelsea came in learning Thibaut Courtois looks to have recovered from a back injury and is in contention to start against Newcastle on Sunday.
Vaishali Bhardwaj of the Evening Standard reported Courtois was in training Friday after missing Wednesday’s 1-1 draw against Huddersfield Town, and PhysioRoom.com provided an update on Chelsea’s other injury concerns:
Courtois returned to training today after missing the 1-1 draw with Huddersfield due to a back injury. David Luiz, Danny Drinkwater and Ethan Ampadu remain sidelined. #CFC
David Luiz hasn’t featured since the centre-back was injured in February, and there’s a possibility he’s now played his last game for the club, with his place under Conte in doubt ahead of a key transfer window.
As for Newcastle, injury analyst Ben Dinnery broke down their current injury issues, with the enforced absence of on-loan wide technician Kenedy a particular worry:
Ben Dinnery @BenDinnery
Ciaran Clark and Christian Atsu [both knee] are ruled out. Islam Slimani serves the last game of his ban. Kenedy unable to face his parent club due to the terms of his loan agreement. #NUFC
Chelsea face a fight against the improbable if they’re to pip Liverpool to a top-four finish in Week 38, but they’ll hope the Reds’ upcoming Champions League final against Real Madrid may help in distracting them on Sunday.
Conte has come in for some criticism for a lacklustre Premier League title defence this term, but he spoke to the media and defended his second campaign in west London, per Nizaar Kinsella of Goal:
Nizaar Kinsella @NizaarKinsella
Conte on whether he has improved Chelsea in his two years: “I think other people will judge our position. I have to work hard with my players then it is up to other people to see the situation and judge the situation. To evaluate two years of work” #CFC
Much talk has centred around what Liverpool need to do in order for Chelsea to succeed, but Newcastle have a hand to play here, too, and can deny the Blues any points if able to conjure back some of this season’s best.
The Magpies have lost four in a row but weren’t long ago on a win streak the same length, and Benitez’s sent out a battle cry ahead of Sunday’s clash, calling for closer contests with bigger opponents such as Chelsea, per Yahoo Sport UK:
Yahoo Sport UK @YahooSportUK
Rafa Benitez on Newcastle next season: 💬”We know that we need to keep the same team spirit, the same mentality, the same commitment from all these players, and a little bit more quality to help and be sure that in this kind of game, you take your chances and win.” #NUFC 👏 https://t.co/LzNbnXxxwa
Equalling or improving on Brighton’s result this Sunday will ensure Newcastle finish the highest of any among this season’s three promoted sides, and they could finish anywhere between 10th and 15th.
For that reason Chelsea are not the only team at St. James’ Park with something to play for on Sunday, and the Blues would be unwise to suppose three points are a given on their final outing of the 2017-18 season.