Complete Preview returns ahead of another return – that of Steve Bruce to Villa Park.
Words: Guy Poxon | @GuyPoxon
This sort of fixture is the perfect Premier League classic – two huge clubs steeped in prestige, with great fan-bases and a little faux rivalry sprinkled on top.
But can Aston Villa get the reaction they sorely need to kick-off a good run?
Battle of the Brazilians
Wesley’s £22,000,000 price tag pails in comparison to Newcastle’s own big-bodied Brazilian striker – Joelinton – who smashed the Toon’s transfer record in the summer with a £40,000,000 fee.
Who is winning the battle? Thankfully, Wesley looks the more productive of the two young bruisers.
|Shots per game||1.8||1.7|
|Dispossed per game||1.1||2|
|Poor touches per game||2.4||4.3|
Wesley is winning on almost every category – with Joelinton only looking more effective so far in terms of his passing accuracy, key passes, number of dribbles and aerial duels.
Newcastle have a new ‘Alan’ marauding around and quickly becoming a cult hit in the Toon, in the form of Allan Saint-Maximin.
Saint-Maximin made an impression from his first appearance in a Newcastle shirt against Arsenal, running with pace, power and direct intent.
Indeed, he has 3.6 successful dribbles per game, and he created 1.4 key passes per game. Those stats are similar to Adama Traore’s, who gave the Villa defence a torrid time in their last Premier League outing.
If Maximin plays, he’ll like play against Frederic Guilbert down Villa’s right – and they will have faced each-other in Ligue 1 last season.
Strangely, Saint-Maximin has yet to register a goal or an assist in the Premier League – perhaps a sign of the winger trying to adapt to a new league and new country.
The Mystery of Miguel Almiron
Miguel Almiron has shown flashes of great play since his arrival at Newcastle United.
He’s a tricky player, and has a flair trait that can be so important for teams in the bottom half of the table – but he hasn’t registered a single goal or assist yet.
This is despite leading Newcastle’s xG charts with a tally of 2.35, Joelinton is second, with 1.94.
Whether he will finally open his account against Villa is unclear – though it would be typically Villa to gift a struggling player an opportunity to resurrect his career.
Newcastle sitting pretty, but are they ‘imposters’?
Worryingly, Steve Bruce returns to Villa Park after two wins on the bounce in the league against Bournemouth and West Ham.
By all accounts, they deserved to win these games and before this weekend’s matches were sat in 13th place with 15 points. Villa, meanwhile, lie in 17th with 11 points after a disappointing few weeks.
However, Villa’s negative three goal difference (having recently played Manchester City and Liverpool) – isn’t too bad – and looks healthier than the negative seven of Newcastle.
Up front, the difference in goal-scoring outlets weighs heavily in Aston Villa’s favour.
|Position in squad for xG||Villa||Newcastle|
|1st||Wesley (5.14)||Miguel Almiron (2.35)|
|2nd||John McGinn (2.59)||Joelinton (1.94)|
|3rd||El Ghazi (2.48)||Allan Saint-Maximin (1.40)|
|4th||Jack Grealish (2.39)||Fabian Schar (0.78)|
|5th||Trezeguet (1.92)||DeAndre Yedlin (0.75)|
Aston Villa look more potent going forward in a number of key positions, and this does feel like a game in which Dean Smith will have less to worry about in regards to the opposition’s goal threats than compared to previous fixtures against Wolves, Liverpool and Manchester City.
“What about defence though? Steve Bruce will, at least, be difficult to beat?”
Yes, and no. It depends on which Newcastle side turns up. There’s a potential appearance for the side that beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 and restricted Champions League finalists to a few chances – and the same side that kept out Manchester United’s attack too.
Overall, Newcastle have conceded 18 goals with an xGA (expected goals against) of 20.23. This is slightly less than Aston Villa – but it’s worth noting that when you sum xG and XGA (expected goal difference per game, producing expected points), it appears that Aston Villa should have ‘12.59’ points in the league. Newcastle, on the other hand, have hugely outperformed their expected points tally, which is only ‘9.54’, and would leave them firmly in the relegation zone.
A surge for Newcastle, and a blip for Villa?
On paper, you’d be resigned to admit that Villa look slightly unlucky to be below Newcastle.
Call it naivety for conceding from mistakes, or playing with an enterprising system with players who are new to playing with each other, but you can see that this side has potential.
Aston Villa are still 9th for expected goals in the league, having dropped from 5th despite having, arguably, their toughest period of the campaign so far.
The fixture list will begin to open up and key players will return from injury – and Dean Smith will be looking to start a winning streak.
Predicted Line-Ups and Final Comments
Aston Villa: (4-3-3) – Nyland [GK], Targett, Mings, Engels, Guilbert, Nakamba, Grealish, McGinn, El Ghazi, Trezeguet, Wesley
Newcastle: (5-4-1) – Dubravka [GK], Yedlin, Fernandez, Clark, Dummett, Willems, Saint-Maximin, Hayden, Shelvey, Almiron, Joelinton
With Newcastle posing slightly less of a threat besides counter-attacks than recent opponents, and with playing at Villa Park, Dean Smith may choose to bring Jack back into midfield. There isn’t the need for two defensive-minded midfielders in Nakamba and Luiz.
This puts Jack Grealish back into a position where he’s slightly deeper in terms of his position – but Smith may well ask him to play more as a number 10.
This might mean that McGinn has to step back more often and choose his moments to get into the box a bit more – but if Jack and John can get the balance right, you can’t help but see the value in having them in central positions whilst our biggest recent goal threat, Trézéguet, and El Ghazi maraud the wings.
In the two above line-ups, Newcastle win in terms of aerial duel success and tackles per game, and if Bruce opts for a defensive formation, this Newcastle side are capable of making life very difficult for Aston Villa.
But at Villa Park, and after the atrocious ‘display’ against Wolves, Dean Smith will want a reaction from the players and you can imagine Villa will really attempt to put Newcastle to the sword.