Barkley, Loftus-Cheek, Hazard – The key decisions Maurizio Sarri must make for Newcastle clash

Chelsea have started the new season in style following successive wins over Huddersfield Town and Arsenal.

Currently one of six teams to have recorded maximum points from their opening two fixtures, the Blues will now be hoping to make it three wins on the spin against Newcastle United on Sunday afternoon.

Having lost 2-1 to Spurs on the opening day of the season, the Magpies missed a glorious chance to grab the points at Cardiff City last weekend with Chelsea loanee Kenedy missing from the penalty spot with a tame effort.

Now back at St James’ Park this weekend, Rafael Benitez’s side will be aiming to get their first win of the season with a daunting trip to Man City on the agenda a week later.

The hosts will be confident of getting a result as well, especially on the back of their recent home form against the FA Cup holders.

With the Blues slipping to a 3-0 defeat on Tyneside back in May, Chelsea have in fact only won one on their last seven visits to St James’ – a 3-0 victory back in December 2011.

Here we take a look at the big decisions Maurizio Sarri has to make ahead of Sunday’s trip to the north east.

Barkley or Kovacic?

The Italian must make a big decision as to who starts in midfield alongside Jorginho and N’Golo Kante.

Ross Barkley will be the current favourite to retain his place after starting in both league games so far, yet Mateo Kovacic impressed in his second-half appearance against Arsenal last weekend.

Not involved on the opening day at Huddersfield, the Real Madrid loanee made an instant impression in the 3-2 win with some crunching tackles.

The Croat’s stats from the game are also extremely impressive after winning all of his tackles and completing every single one of his 43 passes.

With Sarri now debating whether or not to give the midfielder his full Chelsea debut, the Italian may want to have a look at Barkley’s record against Newcastle.

The ex-Everton man seems to flourish against the Magpies, scoring five goals during his time with his boyhood club.

Barkley has caught the eye this season and he looks to be getting back to his best after a difficult 12 months through injury.

It’s will be a tough decision for Sarri to make come the weekend, but it’s also a good one to have.

The return of Loftus-Cheek

A substitute in the win over Huddersfield Town on the opening day, Ruben Loftus-Cheek was left out of the 18-man squad completely for last weekend’s win over Arsenal.

The Blues currently have a number of options in midfield and the England international could well find himself watching on from the sidelines once again at St James’ Park.

Having missed out against the Gunners last Saturday, it looks like it will become even tougher for Loftus-Cheek in the coming weeks as Cesc Fabregas returns to full fitness.

Another omission for the 22-year-old on Sunday could give a big clue as to whether or not he remains at Stamford Bridge beyond the European transfer deadline on Friday, August 31.

Linked with a loan move to Bundesliga club Schalke, reports have suggested that the player could head out on loan for the season to either France, Germany or Spain to get some regular football under his belt.

You’d have to guess that will be the case if he’s missing from the teamsheet again come 3pm on Sunday afternoon.

Who makes way for Hazard?

After returning to pre-season training a tad later than his teammates due to his World Cup exertions for Belgium, this could be the weekend Eden Hazard finally returns to the starting XI.

A substitute in the wins over Huddersfield and Arsenal, the attacker inspired the Blues to victory over Unai Emery’s team last Saturday after teeing up Marcos Alonso’s winner following a brilliant run.

While the Blues could potentially get away with the unthinkable and leave their best player on the bench for a third successive match, it’s likely that the 27-year-old will start

So, who does Sarri drop from his starting XI?

Well, whoever loses out between Pedro and Willian will be extremely unlucky to find themselves on the bench after impressive starts to the season.

The latter will probably be the favourite to miss out given the former has netted in successive games, yet Sarri may think completely differently.

Like the Barkley and Kovacic debate, it’s certainly a good selection headache to have.

Over to you, Maurizio.

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