The FourFourTwo Preview: Aston Villa vs Newcastle
Paul Lambert’s young pretenders' chance to get back to winning ways against the north-east drama queens.
Three games into the Premier League season and the pundits are purring over a transformed Aston Villa. Lambert’s side are a football hipster’s wet dream – young, vibrant and unfancied – but the stats don’t lie. They’ve claimed three points from a possible nine. Yes, they’ve played Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, but performances don’t get you up the table, points do. Saturday’s clash against Newcastle is the perfect opportunity to put another three on the board.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Aston Villa 1–2 Newcastle (Prem, Jan 13)
- Newcastle 1–1 Aston Villa (Prem, Sep 12)
- Newcastle 2-1 Aston Villa (Prem, Feb 12)
- Aston Villa 1–1 Newcastle (Prem, Sep 11)
- Aston Villa 1–0 Newcastle (Prem, Apr 11)
They’ve certainly got the firepower to blast through Newcastle’s rearguard. The dynamic attacking pair of Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann provide power and guile, with Gabby Agbonlahor’s cartoonish speed aiding and abetting from the wings. This attacking triumvirate will relish playing against a travelsick Newcastle in front of their own fans.
The Magpies' away form under Alan Pardew is dismal. They’ve managed just 16 wins from 55 games on the road – a win ratio of less than 30 percent. This record owes much to last season’s miserable performances away from St James’ Park, as they won just three of their 28 away games in all competitions.
But for all the doom and gloom hanging over Tyneside, Newcastle head into this fixture full of confidence following a 1-0 win over Fulham. Pardew has a squad brimming with talent – Moussa Sissoko, Hatem Ben Arfa, Loic Remy to name but three. But he hasn’t quite worked out how to get the best out of this band of mavericks. He needs to settle on a formation, a game plan and the personnel best equipped to execute it all. Integrating Yohan Cabaye back into the team after his strike (well, he is French) could be key.
Villa defender Nathan Baker is back in contention after recovering from the twisted ankle he suffered on the opening day of the season, but the 22-year-old can expect to take a seat on the bench, with Ron Vlaar and Jores Okore set to continue their partnership in central defence. Deadline day signing Libor Kozak trained with this new team-mates for the first time this week and will most likely join Baker among the substitutes.
Newcastle managed to survive deadline day, retaining the services of wantaway midfielder Yohan Cabaye. More surprisingly, they didn’t sign any players from Ligue 1. Gabriel Obertan, Mike Williamson, Cheick Tiote and Jonas Gutierrez should all be at Pardew’s disposal, although he’ll probably kick Obertan back into the treatment room.
Player to Watch: Fabian Delph (Aston Villa)
Yes, you read it right, Fabian Delph. After just 43 games for Leeds United in League One, Villa shelled out £6 million for his services in 2009, only for a string of injuries to slow his progress and seemingly extinguish his early promise. However, the 5ft 8in dynamo is beginning to show the Premier League what all the fuss was about. Injury-free and playing with renewed confidence, he’s proving he can mix it with the league’s top players.
Against Liverpool he was Villa’s top ball player, completing 58 of 67 attempted passes – an accuracy rate of 86 percent. More tellingly, no player was more precise in the attacking third, as he completed 14 of his 19 attempted passes at the business end of the pitch. He was equally effective defensively as he was offensively, winning five out of five tackles and making seven interceptions – more than any other player.
If Newcastle are to get a result in the Midlands they’re going to have to reduce Delph’s influence.
- Aston Villa 3-0 Rotherham (LC)
- Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-1 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-0 Fulham (Prem)
- Morecambe 0-2 Newcastle (LC)
- Newcastle 0-0 West Ham (Prem)
Lambert is flavour of the month. His team were not expected to get anything from their opening three fixtures, but they shocked Arsenal at Emirates Stadium and held their own against Chelsea and Liverpool.
This is the first game of the season where the pressure is on Villa. They’re at home and playing against a Newcastle side lacking cohesion. Against the Premier League’s big boys, Lambert opts to sit back and strike on the counter-attack using his team’s pace. They can’t afford to do that on Saturday - the Villa Park faithful will want to see their team take the initiative.
Pardew can only look upon Lambert’s new-found popularity wistfully. There was a brief spell where he could show his face on Tyneside. Now, he’s on Friends Reunited scraping around for allies.
But football fans are a fickle bunch and he could be back in favour if he repeats last season’s win at Villa Park this weekend. After the transfer window and two international breaks, Pardew says it’s time for his side to settle down and move forward – together – starting on Saturday.
Facts and figures
- Aston Villa have gone 25 Premier League games without a clean sheet; a longer run than any other side currently in the division.
- Newcastle have failed to score in five of their last seven Premier League games, netting just three goals overall in this run.
- Aston Villa have picked up more yellow cards (12) than any other team in the Premier League so far this season.
- Papiss Demba Cisse has failed to score in his last nine Premier League appearances.
- Newcastle have won just two of their last 21 Premier League games on the road (D7 L12).
- The Magpies are unbeaten in the last four league meetings with Aston Villa (W2 D2). That said, Villa have scored in each of those games.
- The Villains have won one and lost three of their last five home league matches.
- Alan Pardew has only lost once in four Premier League visits to Villa Park (W2 D1).
- Since the beginning of last season, Christian Benteke (53) has been caught offside on more occasions than any other Premier League player.
- Aston Villa’s new signing Libor Kozak was the top scorer in the Europa League last season; scoring eight times for Lazio.
With Newcastle dreadful on their travels it's time for a long-awaited Villa clean sheet in the league - 2-0.