Newcastle vs Aston Villa
By Dean Gregory
Villa’s stuttering form continued against Wolves as they failed to capitalise on their first half dominance, then weathered a storm in the second half to secure a point. This result though saw them reach the 40 point mark in the quickest time in the Premier League in the past decade, a testament to the hard work that has gone into restoring Villa’s status as contenders at the top.
Meanwhile, Newcastle are teetering on the edge of the danger zone, one point ahead of Fulham and Brighton. They are suffering a bad run of form and if it does not improve soon, Steve Bruce and his team will find themselves in real trouble.
Newcastle – W L L D D
Aston Villa – D L W L D
Steve Bruce on relegation battle
“We play first so it’ll be great if we can get a result, we know we’re capable of it.
“Then we’ll see what other teams can do. Jack (Grealish) is their best player and, without him, they’d miss him.
“I hope he needs another week, but I don’t mean that personally.”
On West Brom draw
“We showed character, which you need. We’re without our three big players, who we’ve invested a lot of money in, but we have a lot of quality elsewhere.
“It’s been particularly cruel but we have to find a way. There’s still 11 games left and all to play for.”
Dean Smith on season so far
“I’d have certainly taken that [ninth place with games in hand] at the start of the season. I’d have never accepted it because I’ve always got a belief that you can go and do well, but we have progressed a lot quicker than we thought we would this season.
“We knew that we weren’t satisfied with last season and we wanted to improve anyway. The improvement in the first half of the season was very good.
“Like most teams at the moment, we’ve been a little bit inconsistent with results recently.”
Steve Bruce has set his team up in a variety of ways across the season, but his most used formation has been a classic flat 4-4-2 with Callum Wilson partnering Joelinton up front, Jeff Hendrick, Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden and Allan Saint-Maximin in midfield, and a back four of Javier Manquillo, Federico Fernández, Ciaran Clark and Jamaal Lewis.
Newcastle have been accused of looking lost and without a plan at times this season, and with an average possession of 41.9% and a passing accuracy of just 75.3% it is easy to see why. 17% of all passes they attempt are played long, and they only spend 25% of the time in the opposition half.
In terms of how they approach games, their go-to tactic appears to be to sit back, absorb pressure and try to nick a goal on the break. Wilson’s aerial presence and movement, combined with Saint-Maximin’s trickery and guile, are what allow this tactic to work for them. Without either one in the team, they seem to not know how to cope.
They have scored 27 goals from 26.44 xG. This shows that if they create the chances, they are capable of taking them. Simply put, they do not do enough to carve out chances to take. 17 of their goals have come from open play, from just 172 shots.
Defensively, they have conceded 44 from 43.96 xGA. There are five teams who have conceded more, three of whom are above them in the table, so this situation is not as bad as it first appears. The closeness of the numbers for both goals for and against indicate that they have no particular injections of luck either way; they get they exact results that the way they play deserves.
Newcastle invite teams onto them, allowing them plenty of chances while struggling to carve out any of their own in response. This is a dangerous way of approaching the game, and unless they change things up or find some good luck soon, they will find it hard to avoid trouble.
One to Watch
Callum Wilson is a doubt for this match, but it is worth pointing out how vital he is to the team. With a personal xG of 11.65 and by far the most goal contributions in the squad with 15 (10 goals, 5 assists), he represents effectively all of their attacking threat. It is hard to see how they cope without him in the team.
The only player in the squad who has a WhoScored rating over seven is goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, with 7.20. With Wilson or Saint-Maximin both in doubt, this shows the depth of the problem they currency face.
Newcastle 0-3 Aston Villa – 02-04-2005
A Juan Pablo Angel goal and two late Gareth Barry penalties saw Villa cruise past Newcastle in the last match they won away against them.
Aston Villa 2-0 Newcastle – 23-01-2021
A fairly routine win for Villa against a Newcastle side who were ten games without a win. The three points simply never looked in any doubt with Newcastle registering only a single shot on target, which itself was worth just 0.02 xG.
How it could play out
Newcastle lean heavily on two players in particular – Allan Saint-Maximin, a tricky winger and the team’s bright spark, and Callum Wilson, an experienced and clever striker with a great eye for goal. Both of these players are a doubt for this match, which severely hamstrings Newcastle.
This is good news for Villa as that takes care of essentially all of their opponent’s attacking threat, but the news that Grealish will not be ready for this match similarly diminishes Villa’s potency going forward.
The situation is not as dire for Villa however, as a first half against Wolves which saw them hit the woodwork, proved they are still capable of creating without their talismanic playmaker, even if they are having terrible luck actually taking those opportunities.
Essentially, this match boils down to two primarily counter-attacking teams heavily reliant on defensive strength, both of whom have had their attack majorly impacted by injuries. This situation does not have “classic encounter” written on it in any way.
Some good news for Villa – Matty Cash is back to fitness much sooner than expected, and is expected to be in the squad for this match. Elmo has been a capable and reliable servant to the club over the years, but it is clear he is coming towards the end of his time here and Cash’s return will go a long way towards recovering Villa’s stuttering form.
Newcastle 0-2 Aston Villa
Even without Grealish, Villa should have plenty enough in their locker to win this. It may not be as comfortable as the reverse fixture, but they will be clear favourites.