Former Stoke midfielder and current Sky Sports pundit Danny Higginbotham has pinpointed Newcastle United’s defensive frailties as the key reason for their poor recent form.

The Magpies have gone five games without a win since beating Crystal Palace 1-0 at St James’ Park thanks to a late Mikel Merino header.

They went on a four game losing streak against Burnley, Bournemouth, Manchester United and Watford, before snatching a point away to West Brom in midweek, manager Rafael Benitez having seen his side go 2-0 down before a pair of Matt Ritchie set pieces managed to force two goals the his side.

Analysing where the north east side have gone wrong over the last couple of weeks, Higginbotham says that they have allowed the defensive resolution shown in the opening weeks of the season dissipate, which has allowed the opposition to take the game to the Magpies.

Writing on the Sky Sports website about their five game winless run, he said: “It is how they are working as a unit on the defensive side of things.

“They were not so open to the counter-attack and it led to them picking up some results and some clean sheets.

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“What has happened in recent weeks is that this has been completely different. They have been a lot more open.Whether that is because they are a bit more desperate for that win so the team is committing more players forward I do not know, but the space between the defenders and the midfielders has been too great.

“I expect them to be more defensive against Chelsea and get back to where they were.”

The Magpies play host to the Blues in the early kick off on Saturday, with Antonio Conte’s side coming into the clash off the back of a narrow 1-0 win over Swansea.

The last meeting between the two sides ended in a 5-1 win to Chelsea back in February 2016, with Andros Townsend netting a last minute consolation goal for Newcastle.

In other Newcastle United news, supporters have said this top flight reveal is an “absolute disaster”.

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