Steve Bruce Relishes Challenge of Beating Villa, as Villa’s Squad Gets Another Boost

Aston Villa vs Newcastle

By Dean Gregory

Villa played their first game in hand mid-week, a somewhat controversial loss to Man City leaving them in 11th place with three games in hand yet to play on many teams. A pivotal one will be the rearranged home clash against Newcastle, that takes advantage of both teams being out of the FA Cup.

Newcastle are currently on a bad run of form and will start the day in 15th, seven points clear of the drop zone. They will be hoping to turn their fortunes around and put more distance between themselves and danger. If Villa want to be considered a top half team this season, they need to be taking care of business in such fixtures.

League Form

Aston Villa – W W D L L

Newcastle – L D L L L

25% OFF the Villa 3rd Kit below

Manager Quotes

Dean Smith on team news

“John McGinn is obviously suspended with five yellows and Trezeguet will come back into the squad. 

“They’ve all recovered well, to be honest. We came back to Bodymoor and did a recovery session and then we were back in yesterday for another recovery session.

“We’re preparing for Newcastle today and everyone has the green light.”

On recent form

“We feel like we’re in a good place. In our last three games we’ve played Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City and we’ve only got one point from them.

“We feel that we deserved more. We felt it was a poor penalty decision for Paul Pogba in the Manchester United game and obviously decisions went against us in the Manchester City game.

“Manchester City was the game I felt we deserved to get beat as they were the better team. We’ve got great belief in the way we’re playing and the team we’ve got.”

Steve Bruce on Aston Villa

“Aston Villa have made a huge investment in the last couple of seasons in particular, but they’ve bought very well. In two years I think the only player who will probably play tomorrow is (Jack) Grealish. The owners, when I was there, did their utmost to make sure they weren’t going to lose their crown jewel in Jack Grealish, who has flourished.”

“I had a couple of decent years at Aston Villa so I’ll look forward to the challenge of trying to beat them. I’ve had so many former clubs but it always adds something extra.”

Tactical Analysis

Steve Bruce has experimented often with formations, but his most used 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 defensive lineup of Javier Manquillo, Federico Fernandez, Ciaran Clark and Jamal Lewis. These players are often swapped around, most notably with Joelinton popping up in midfield fairly often.

Newcastle are gaining a reputation for playing lacklustre, negative football under Bruce, as demonstrated by their 41.1% average possession and 75.1% pass success this season. These stats show a team that are not set up to absorb pressure, rather they struggle to impose themselves on games and lack cohesion.

18% of all passes attempted are played long, which lends further evidence to their lack of cohesion as a team; they regularly attempt to bypass the midfield entirely and rely on Joelinton or Wilson to bring down long balls.

Newcastle have scored 18 goals from 16.80 xG. Given their much-touted woes in front of goal, the stats suggest they are surprisingly clinical and efficient when the chances come – they just struggle to create chances. They have taken just 98 shots from open play all season, scoring 11 of them. In contrast, they have allowed 211 shots against them, more than double the amount they have managed.

They have conceded 30 goals from 30.29 xGA. They are one of only five teams in the league to have conceded 30+ goals, a stat which implies they allow a higher than average amount of chances against them. They have conceded the amount that their general play suggests they should have, meaning if they could take control of games more often, their defence would likely cope well under lower pressure.

Newcastle are the sort of team a competent ball-playing side loves to play against. This should be an ideal situation for Villa to get back into their groove after so long away.

One to Watch

Embed from Getty Images

Allan Saint-Maximin is Newcastle’s primary dangerman. He is known for his explosive, skilful dribbling, completing 3.6 dribbles a game, but he is also a competent passer of the ball with an 85% pass success rate and a key pass per game. That he only has one goal and one assist so far this season says more about his teammates than it does about him.

He is also fouled 2.8 times per game, making him the team’s primary source of free kicks. Keeping him quiet goes a long way towards blunting Newcastle’s attack.

Memory Match

Aston Villa 2-0 Newcastle – 25-11-2019

Conor Hourihane and Anwar El Ghazi scored in quick succession to seal the three points. This was the first time since 2011 that Villa had recorded a win over Newcastle.

How it could play out

Dean Smith’s red card in the last game means that there will not be a Premier League manager in either dugout in this game – or so the joke goes.

Steve Bruce has not endeared himself to the Newcastle fanbase in his time at the club, often accused of playing turgid, negative football that is boring to watch, mostly ineffective and only intended to scrape survival. Their failure to score in the last 12 hours of league action is testament to this; they are in a rut, and in real danger of getting dragged into a relegation scrap.

Meanwhile at Villa, their extended period of time off was clear to see against Man City as most players on the pitch looked way off full match fitness. It is unsurprising at nothing to be alarmed about, and this congested fixture list will ensure that the entire squad will be match fit in no time at all.

Villa will miss the energetic presence of John McGinn in the middle following his own suspension – who will come in to replace him? Hourihane has been loaned out to Swansea with the purported arrival of Morgan Sanson still yet to happen, leaving options in the middle fairly light. Marvelous Nakamba is the most senior of the squad’s backup midfield options, but his defensive mindset likely means he is not suited to this match. Jacob Ramsey is a more forward thinking option, so he could earn himself another start. Or will Grealish play more centrally?

A boost for the squad will be Trezeguet’s return – will he go straight back into the team? Traore and El Ghazi have been exemplary at times on the wings meaning he is not a nailed on starter, but his workrate and endeavour has been missed. Whether he starts or not, his return will be a welcome one.

This game is an opportunity for Villa to get back to winning ways, and they will likely do all they can to take advantage of it.


Aston Villa 2-0 Newcastle

This is one of those games that Villa should win comfortably. Newcastle are out of form and tend to crumble under pressure, and Villa have become very good at applying pressure by now. Of course, they also have a history of losing games they should win; hopefully they can buck that trend.

Listen to the New Episode