ASTON VILLA host Newcastle on Monday for in a crunch bottom half clash in the Premier League. Jack Lambden (@_JackL_) analyses the encounter.
Aston Villa v Newcastle | Monday 25th November 2019, 20:00 | Sky Sports
Following a run of three successive Premier League defeats, Aston Villa will be determined to get back on track in front of the Monday Night Football cameras and maintain the breathing space between them and the relegation zone.
Villa’s performances have perhaps merited better results than they have been getting, with Dean Smith’s side keeping every game they have played back at the top table competitive and often proving far stronger against sides you would expect to be in and around them come the end of the season.
Five of Villa’s seven defeats have come at the hands of 2018/19’s top seven which further underlines the importance of winning the so-called ‘six pointers’ if they are to retain their Premier League status.
Smith’s popularity has grown over time and he now has the highest win percentage (50%) of any Villa manager in history, slightly higher than the club’s greatest ever manager George Ramsay. Although it would be near impossible for Smith to emulate Ramsay in winning six FA Cups and six league titles, the brand of football played is popular amongst supporters and is a far cry from the sometimes dull approach that his predecessor and opposite number on Monday Steve Bruce adopted.
Going forward, the Claret & Blues have relied heavily on the creativity of their captain Jack Grealish. The boyhood Villa fan’s two Premier League goals came when playing in a more advanced position (enabled by Conor Hourihane and Douglas Luiz’s rotation in the midfield three) and he was simply untouchable against Brighton back in September on his last appearance at home.
Villa’s chances of getting a result in this game could well be dependent on Grealish’s fitness but it is looking likely that their main man will recover in time to feature under the lights which is a massive boost. By playing on the left side of the front three rather than in centre midfield, Grealish has less defensive responsibility and his two goals and an assist in three games in that position compares to no goals and two assists in six games playing in the deeper role, clearly highlighting where he has his best impact.
The skipper to rise to the occasion again and score can be found at 4/1 with several bookies which certainly appeals considering the stats, but the bet is just a lean considering Grealish’s fitness concerns. Even if he is fit, it could take him some time to get back into his full stride having not played for just under a month.
Another man who is having a great season for both club and country is John McGinn. Six goals in his last three caps for Scotland and a flying start in the Premier League has the big clubs circling, with Manchester United recently linked with a move for the former Hibs man who was little known outside his home country before moving south of the border.
The box-to-box midfielder, should he maintain his current level of performance, has a great shout of ending up in the PFA Team of the Year. Sadly the value in backing McGinn on the shots markets has gone as the bookies quickly cottoned on to the underlying data but the team shots on target prices are slightly more generous.
Villa on-target efforts appeal
Villa have registered an average of 5.6 shots on target per game against bottom half sides including eight against Brighton and 12 when playing Norwich and their total average sits them above the likes of Tottenham and Leicester.
With Newcastle having conceded more goals than any other side away from home this season (14) and 11.95 of their 20.23 Expected Goals Against (xGA) total being racked up on the road, I fancy Villa to pin their opponents back and the 13/8 with Betfair on 6 or more Villa shots on target looks a good way to go, especially if Grealish does return.
Set-pieces key for Toon
Newcastle’s tactical tweaks in recent weeks have beard fruit, the 5-4-1 set-up resulting in a 1-0 win over Manchester United which instantly gave the squad more confidence and was followed up more recently by back-to-back wins against West Ham and then Bournemouth.
A key plus of playing three at the back has been the strength Newcastle have posed from set-pieces – something that was clearly evident at the Olympic Stadium as both Ciaran Clark and Federico Fernandez got on the scoresheet with the extra centre-back causing havoc in the box for their opponents.
Given that Aston Villa have conceded seven goals from set plays this season, a rather high 35% of goals in their own net, Bruce will be looking to use this as one of his side’s main weapons of attack especially considering that an extraordinary seven out of the 11 goals scored by Newcastle this season have been by defenders.
Another benefit of the new system for the Magpies is the ability to push on their full-backs DeAndre Yedlin and Jetro Williams to provide further support to record signing Joelinton. The Brazilian was isolated in the early months of the campaign but can now benefit from better service from wide areas. I believe that the tactical changes Bruce has set within his team makes the Geordies a much tougher side to beat and equally a much bigger threat going forward.
Although Bruce tried to get the fans on side early in his tenure by playing a more attractive style than under Rafa Benitez, the players in the squad were not able to adapt quickly enough and they began to be completely outplayed, even in games they should be winning. The recent changes are a compromise and appear to have found the right balance so Newcastle fans should be travelling to Villa Park in their vast numbers more buoyant than they would have been had this match have been played a couple of months ago.
Saint-Maximin to give Guilbert nightmares
The player who looks to have benefitted most from the recent changes is Allan Saint-Maximin. The left-winger has been superb since receiving more regular game time and is very unlucky to have not opened his goalscoring account for his new club yet, hitting the woodwork against Bournemouth and posing a constant threat with his direct running.
I want to get him onside to have another good display at Villa Park and the man he will up against, Villa right-back Frédéric Guilbert, has been booked four times since the start of the season – all four because of fouls on wide men (namely Jota, Bernard, Schlupp and Beundia).
Guilbert is 4/1 with Bet365 to pick up a booking and that’s worth a play in my eyes when factoring in Newcastle’s increased recent threat from wide areas, El Ghazi’s sometimes floundering defensive contribution which can leave Guilbert overloaded and the fact the Frenchman once picked up 12 yellow cards in one season for former club Caen.
The 4/1 is double the price that is available with other bookies so it represents some value.
Villa to edge enjoyable encounter
It should be an entertaining affair which I think Villa may just edge. They know the importance of winning this game as their next three fixtures look daunting with trips to Manchester United and Chelsea and then a Midlands derby with high-flying Leicester to follow.
Both teams have scored in 14 out of the 24 games these sides have played this season and although Villa haven’t beaten Newcastle in the last 12 attempts, I think they’ll at least come out of this one with a point in front of another sold out Villa Park crowd.
Both Teams To Score and Aston Villa double chance is 5/4 at Marathon which is my final selection of the game.