Newcastle United vs Aston Villa
Venue: St. James’ Park
Referee: Paul Tierney
TV: BT Sport
Newcastle United host Aston Villa on Friday evening as they aim to secure their survival in the Premier League. Last time out against The Magpies, Villa came away 2-0 victors, thanks to Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traore goals. Now, with injuries, fatigue, and a lot more on the line, the tie may not be as one-sided as it was in January.
Just one point and two places above 18th, Newcastle desperately need to find some points to secure their survival in the Premier League. Steve Bruce’s men have been steady, if not fantastic in recent weeks, picking a win and two draws in their last five games. While their form may not be excellent, their run-in is favourable, and their survival is in their hands. Newcastle face Brighton, Sheffield United and Fulham, all clubs they’ll need to beat in order to survive.
Newcastle were relegated in 2016 and bounced back immediately in a dominant, Championship-winning fashion. However, this time around, relegation could be much more costly for the Magpies, with COVID-19 severely limiting match income and merchandise revenue. For a club the size of Newcastle, this must-have already impacted finances and with owner Mike Ashley reluctant to invest in the club, a return to the top flight for Newcastle may not be as easy this time around.
However, staying in the present, Newcastle must-win against a shaky Aston Villa side this weekend to relieve pressure from the two clubs immediately below them. Bruce’s unwillingness to play a recognised striker against West Brom cost Newcastle three points and he must change that against Villa. The obvious option is Dwight Gayle, who holds a grudge against the Midlands side following his spells at The Hawthorns, and usually plays his best against them. Newcastle could play for a smash and grab result with a recognised striker, inching them closer to survival.
Dean Smith will be happy in the other end of the dugout, knowing he doesn’t have to survive a relegation scrap this year, as his Villa side still eye up an outside chance at European football. It’s been a fantastic turnaround this season for the Villans, enjoying their best campaign since the early 2010s, which highlights how good club management and investment can do wonders for a side in such a small space of time.
Last time out, Villa drew 0-0 with local rivals Wolves. It wasn’t a bad result for the Villans, as both sides were evenly matched over the 90 minutes; however, it wasn’t the result the Midlands side needed to challenge Europe. Still missing Jack Grealish, Villa struggled to create chances consistently. When the opportunity came, they were unlucky not to finish them, hitting the woodwork twice. Villa’s form has been patchy at best since their club captain got injured; however, his return could be the boost they need to push that little bit further to Europe. The Villans are eight points behind fifth with two games in hand over the leaders, so Europe is still possible, as long as results go their way.
Looking ahead to the Newcastle tie, all hopes will be placed on Grealish’s return, as he is reportedly close to full fitness. The addition of Anwar El Ghazi, or Anwar El ‘Goalzie’ as his teammates dub him, would also be a welcomed boost for a Villa side struggling to put chances away. Villa’s defence is still doing their part, winning a 14th clean sheet of the season in their last game, so it is all down to the players in the final third to make the difference.
Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin remain unavailable. Callum Wilson has returned to light training, but Friday’s game will be too soon for him to return.
Jack Grealish and Anwar El Ghazi are doubtful, but the former will most likely start if available. Morgan Sanson impressed and will most likely retain his starting position. The remaining midfield spots are all to play for.
Predicted Starting XIs
Newcastle United (4-3-1-2): Dubravka; Krafth, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett; Hendrick, Shelvey, Willock; Hayden; Joelinton, Gayle
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Martinez; Elmohamady, Konsa, Mings, Targett; Luiz, McGinn, Sanson; Grealish, Watkins, Traore
Predicted Score: Newcastle United 1-1 Aston Villa
With it all to play for, Newcastle may shut up shop and play for the single goal. Villa’s attacking talents are strong, and they should find a way through; however, it will be difficult for them to win this game against a resilient Newcastle defence.