Cesc Fabregas v Mikel Merino: The key battle when Chelsea face Newcastle

The Key Battle - Fabregas v Merino
Image: The Key Battle - Fabregas v Merino

Newcastle kick-off the weekend's top-flight action live on Sky Sports on Saturday lunchtime at Chelsea - where they have won just one of their 22 Premier League fixtures.

Can they win against the odds this time around? That could depend on who comes out on top in the midfield battle.

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Cesc Fabregas has become a mainstay of Antonio Conte's team this season having been very much a bit-part player during the title-winning campaign. The Spaniard has started 11 of their 14 Premier League games this term having only started 13 in the whole of last season. He has played 973 minutes in the league this season - at the same stage last season, he had played just 177.

Watch highlights of Chelsea 1-0 Swansea

Creativity has always been at the forefront of Fabregas' game and only Kevin De Bruyne has created more chances in the Premier League this season.

Most chances created - PL this season

Player Club Chances created
De Bruyne Man City 43
Fabregas Chelsea 41
Ozil Arsenal 39
Eriksen Tottenham 32
Gross Brighton 31
Silva Man City 31

As expected, Fabregas leads the way for Chelsea with the most successful passes this season and has made over 250 more passes in the opposition half than any other Chelsea player. His efforts to get across the pitch this season have also been impressive - only Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta have covered more distance.

Passing - Chelsea in PL this season

Player Most successful passes - Player Most passes in op. half
Fabregas 767 Fabregas 623
Azpilicueta 696 Kante 366
Kante 571 Azpilicueta 354

Chelsea running - PL this season

Player Total distance covered (km)
Alonso 161
Azpilicueta 137
Fabregas 133
Kante 126
Morata 115

While making goals is what Fabregas has mostly been known for during his career - only Ryan Giggs (162) has more assists in Premier League history than Fabregas (110) - the 30-year-old could join an illustrious goalscoring group if he finds the net against Newcastle and becomes the third Spaniard to score 50 Premier League goals.

Top scoring Spaniards in Premier League history

Player Goals
Torres 85
Costa 52
Fabregas 49
Mata 46
Arteta 41

Hoping to stop Fabregas from either reaching that landmark or teeing up his team-mates will be his compatriot, Newcastle midfielder Mikel Merino.

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The summer signing from Borussia Dortmund made his first start since October in the comeback draw at West Brom on Tuesday, having recently been troubled with a back injury, and Rafa Benitez will be hoping the 21-year-old's return to the starting line-up will result in an upturn in form for Newcastle, who have won just one point from the last five games.

Watch highlights of West Brom 2-2 Newcastle

It was Merino who scored Newcastle's last winning goal four minutes from time against Crystal Palace on October 21 - his only goal for the club.

He will be expecting to be doing more defensive work at Stamford Bridge on Saturday and despite only starting half of his side's Premier League games this season, Merino has made more tackles and interceptions than any other Newcastle player.

Most tackles & interceptions - Newcastle in PL this season

Player Tackles - Player Interceptions
Merino 28 - Merino 15
Hayden 23 - Hayden 13
Perez, Ritchie, Yedlin 18 - Ritchie 12

While Matt Ritchie has been the creative force for Newcastle this season, with five of their eight assists, Merino is just behind the winger for their most passes and successful passes this season, despite having played over 500 minutes fewer.

Passing - Newcastle in PL this season

Player Passes - Player Successful passes
Ritchie 467 Ritchie 358
Merino 445 - Merino 345
Shelvey 430 - Shelvey 324

Five of Newcastle's seven Premier League defeats this season have come when Merino hasn't been named in their starting line-up, so the Spaniard's return to the first XI could be a good omen for Benitez in his first game against Chelsea since his spell in charge of the club in 2012/13.

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