By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa vs Newcastle
After a fortunately timed international break, Villa’s return to Premier League action is a Monday night match at Villa Park against Newcastle.
Newcastle currently sit in 14th after a recent upturn in fortunes carried them out of the relegation spots, leaving them a comfortable five points clear. Meanwhile, Villa continue to struggle getting a firm footing in the league, occupying 17th place, one point clear with a superior goal difference.
Is Newcastle’s new-found form a mere flash in the pan? Will Villa be able to mount a good run of their own?
Aston Villa – W W L L L
Newcastle – W L D W W
Dean Smith on the injury situation
“Jed (Steer) unfortunately got injured in his first Premier League start for us. Against Wolves he got a partial tear of his Achilles so he’s going to be out for a while, which is a big disappointment because he was pivotal in us getting promoted last season and he’s been pushing Tom all the way.
“Tom (Heaton) felt his calf against Liverpool and didn’t train but, in the build up to the Wolves game, we thought he might come through it but it was just too sore.
“I had no doubts about giving Jed the start but unfortunately five minutes in his had to come off and Orjan Nyland ended up going in goal.
“But Tom has been out on the grass today and he will be training tomorrow and Sunday, ready for the game on Monday.
“I don’t have an idea about how long Jed is likely to be out – I’m guessing around about 3-4 months I would have thought.
“It’s a disappointment but we are taking a conservative approach. It’s not surgical which is good news and hopefully we can get him back as soon as possible.
“Jack Grealish has been training with us. I’m a little bit ill at ease to say he’s available because I’ve said it for the last couple of weeks and he’s not played – such has been his calf injury.
“But he’s trained with us for the last week so I have no doubts he’ll be there and in his happy place at Villa Park playing in front of the fans.
“Matt (Targett) came off just before half-time against Wolves with concussion and he went through protocol – he’s been back training now for the last week as well.
“Bjorn Engels had an injection in his hip about 10 days ago and has been back in training, so I would expect them all fully fit and available for selection.”
Steve Bruce on Villa return
“I had the privilege to manage there and you’re always disappointed with the way it ends. I thought I would have demanded more time but that wasn’t the case.
“It’s a great club with big tradition and history but I want to go back and beat them.”
“Where we’ve got one or two back fit we’ve maybe lost one or two with the internationals but that’s how it is.
“Ciaran Clark is our biggest worry. After coming on for Ireland he’s got a knock so we’ll see how he is.”
“(Matt Ritchie) went to see his specialist again yesterday. It’s a difficult one because he was so close a couple of weeks ago and unfortunately had a setback. It’s difficult and frustrating for him.”
“Lejeune and Schär have trained all the past two weeks so they come into the reckoning.
“The big one is Flo because he’s been out so long but he’s ready to go and the same goes for Fab.
“As long as they come through the next two or three days unscathed.”
Newcastle favour a 5-4-1 formation, with DeAndre Yedlin and Jetro Willems as fullbacks, Joelinton up front and any combination of Sean or Matt Longstaff, Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Billings behind him in midfield.
This is a Steve Bruce team – they actively look to sit back and defend deep, averaging 37.9% possession so far across the entire season. Despite this, they take a reasonably high number of shots per game (10.6 average, 127 total), although these don’t tend to be very high quality; they have scored 11 goals, generating a total xG of 10.06, and of their shots taken, they average 3.4 on target per game – 41 in total.
The whole team’s total xG per 90 (average expected goals per match) stands at 0.84, Allan Saint-Maximin scoring the highest with 0.26. The last three matches against Wolves, West Ham and Bournemouth saw them score six goals with an overall xG of 4.86, which highlights the recent upturn in form for them.
Defensively, Newcastle have conceded 18 goals, conceding 14.7 shots per game (176 total). The way that Bruce has his teams play means they will concede a lot of shots, but they do handle pressure well for the most part.
The system they play sees the fullbacks spend most of their time holding the defensive shape, but they do attempt to contribute to the attack when they can. Both Yedlin and Willems have contributed a goal so far, with Willems adding two assists on top of that, as well as providing a key pass per game.
Newcastle are far from the strongest team in the league, and Villa have faced tougher tasks in their last few matches. However, they are a capable side, and should not be taken lightly.
One to Watch
A semi-regular in Villa’s worst season to date, Ciaran Clark has been something of a revelation for Newcastle since joining them. Their once porous defence has become fairly resolute, and the Irishman is a large part of that. He began his season late due to injury, but in the last five games he has shored up the defence once again with his 5.4 clearances per match.
He has even chipped in with two goals to boot, making him the team’s joint top scorer. That his return to action coincided with Newcastle’s improved form is no coincidence.
Aston Villa 1-0 Newcastle – 10-04-2011
This drab 1-0 victory, courtesy of a 24th minute James Collins strike, was the most recent victory Villa have had over their next opponents of any kind.
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How it Could Play Out
Newcastle have been something of a bogey team for Villa for a number of years now. That said, a 1-1 draw away followed by a 0-0 draw at home in the relegation season, meant they were the only PremIer League team to not register a win against arguably the worst Villa team in recent times.
In recent seasons they have not been much better than Villa, so it would be reasonable to view this as a winnable fixture, if not a must-win game. To finally beat them again after eight years would highlight how far Villa have come in that time.
This fixture comes with an added spice, too – back in 2009, when Newcastle’s relegation was confirmed at Villa Park, a banner reading “sob on the tyne” was displayed by a Villa fan to gently mock them, as opposition fans do. Newcastle fans have never forgotten this transgression, however. Since then they have been a little sore towards Villa since.
Whether this faux rivalry ever translates to anything on the pitch is unknown, but their fanbase will be baying for blood on Monday night, and they will not be offering their best wishes to Villa for the season.
Newcastle started this season with a marquee signing that really showed intent – Brazillian striker Joelinton arrived for £40 million with the expectation that he would revolutionize their attack. A Brazillian striker arriving for a record fee obviously drew comparisons with Villa’s own Welsey who, for almost half the price, has vastly outperformed his countryman.
Joelinton’s one goal and one assist from an xG of 1.94 shows he has not yet taken to the premier league. Wesley, meanwhile, has registered four goals and one assist from 5.14 xG; technically he too is underperforming in front of goal, but his involvement in the games overall is much better, a fact which earned him a rather unexpected Brazil call-up.
This match will probably not be made about the two Brazillian forwards, but considering the comparisons drawn up early on in the season, Villa fans will be happy to see their own doing much better.
Aston Villa have flattered to deceive so far this season, showing enough to suggest the goal of survival is achievable, but not convincing when it comes to seeing out games. Whether this game is viewed as a must-win or not, Villa need to start chalking up serious points on the board soon, and now is the best time to start doing it.
Aston Villa 1-1 Newcastle
Historical precedent shows this will be a tricky one. Villa have been lacking sustained pressure and kIller InstInct to see their opponents off. That’s why with Newcastle’s decent last couple of games, you’d probably predict a draw.