“Chelsea at home, we’ll fancy ourselves,” Jamaal Lascelles said when asked about the visit of the Blues to Newcastle United this Sunday.
“We beat them 3-0 at home last year. That’s in the past, but we know what they’re about, our fans will be right behind us, and we’re raring to go.”
Rafael Benítez’s may be raring to go, but the Chelsea of last season was a much different proposition to the team that Maurizio Sarri is putting together, and the Magpies’ opening two games to the season have yielded just a solitary point.
Newcastle fans will be pleased – or, at least, relieved – to know that that single point is an unfortunately low total to have.
On expected goals – a metric that judges the quality of a team or player’s chances – Benitez’s side are roughly midtable on both sides of the ball.
It’s early days, but the shots they’ve had have been worth 1.3xG per 90 minutes, while the chances they’ve conceded have been worth 1.34xG90.
It’s a similarly middling story when looking at how well they get the ball up the field, regardless of whether they take a shot.
Nearly 41 percent of their sequences of possession have ended in the opponent’s final third so far this season, around the lower mid-table. They balance this out in their defending, restricting their opponents to getting to the final third with a mere 38 percent of their possession sequences.
Being mid-table may not be glamorous, but it should at least be safe. Given the turmoil that the club has been through in the past, and the continuing battles between fans and Mike Ashley, that should be a comfort.
Newcastle may not beat Chelsea, as Lascelles say they fancy themselves to do, but they’re not as far away from them as the very early table suggests.