Newcastle vs Aston Villa | Friday 12th March 2021, 20:00 | BT Sport
Your Friday night viewing this week comes from the Premier League as struggling Newcastle United look to claim an important three points in their battle against the drop when welcoming Aston Villa to St James Park.
The Magpies are winless in four, and won only twice since beating West Brom on December 12th. Villa have dipped themselves in more recent times having achieved just one victory in five, but European football next season still remains a real possibility.
I don’t know why, but I was really looking forward to West Brom v Newcastle on Sunday. It was a game where both teams really could have done with the three points, and yet the performances on show didn’t necessarily reflect that.
It looked as if Newcastle were quite happy to take the point in the end, and that immediately puts big pressure on them getting something from this home game. Looking at their upcoming fixtures I’d go as far as saying that this is must-win for Bruce’s men.
Looking at their remaining fixtures, there is only a home clash with Sheffield United on the penultimate weekend in which you’d have a little more than above average confident on them winning. Once the Villa game is down, their next six games sees them travel to Brighton, Burnley and Liverpool, whilst entertaining Tottenham, West Ham and Arsenal.
Friday really is massive, but the absences of Callum Wilson, Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin continues to leave them rather toothless and timid in attack. This trio are responsible for 16 of Newcastle’s Premier League goals this season, and the rest of the squad have contributed 11 between them.
As mentioned, Villa haven’t been their usual selves in recent weeks. Sure, it is easy to highlight the fact that Jack Grealish has been out through injury, but he was in the team when drawing away at Brighton in a team performance boss Dean Smith described as ‘bang average’, and that was putting it kindly.
The England international will undergo a fitness test before determining his availability for the trip up North, but having missed their last four games anyway I don’t expect him to be at his very best necessarily.
Villa have been inconsistent of late and winning two, drawing two and losing two of their previous six fixtures reflects that rather aptly. They’ve only scored three goals within that run, which is perhaps what’ll worry Smith more than anything.
That being said, such a big part of their game is what they do off the ball as they as only runaway leaders Manchester City have earned more clean sheets. Villa top the charts for away clean sheets, so Smith will set up his side to be organised off the ball, whereas they’ll be hoping Grealish can provide a spark in attack.
If he does again miss out, you have to wonder where the threat will come from. In recent weeks they’ll be relying on man-of-the-match performances from goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez to keep them in games, and that can’t continue for much longer.
Then again, where is the threat going to come from Newcastle? After all, they’ve struggled for goals themselves. However, if you’re struggling at one end then you make sure you’re pretty decent at the other.
For all that Bruce wants his team to play without fear, be free and bold in their approach, it just all looks hard work. I think here they’ll be aiming for a clean sheet and then hoping for something either on a set piece or get the ball wide and produce some crosses to put Villa under some pressure.
Nothing is screaming goals to me in this game. Just three of Villa’s last 11 in the Premier League have featured a minimum of three goals. We can also say the same on three of Newcastle’s last four, too. Villa are favourites for this game, but it is worth mentioning they’ve lost away at Sheffield United and Burnley this year.
For all that Newcastle’s recent form is quite poor, they’ve often been in games and haven’t been battered, at least by the scoreline. Their last three home losses came by a one-goal margin, for example.
This is a huge game for Newcastle, and I can just see them aiming to keep things tight for as long as possible and then perhaps be a little more expressive as the game goes on, unless they can pinch the first goal.
Villa are winless all season when conceding first (D1, L9), as so much of their game plan is about netting the opener and then going a job defensively. I’ll put a bit of faith in the home side here, so the selection is Newcastle Double Chance and Under 3 Goals at 9/5 (Bet365).
Newcastle v Aston Villa – Newcastle Double Chance & Under 3 Goals (9/5 Bet365)