Aston Villa vs. Newcastle United
Venue: Villa Park
Kick off: 9PM
Aston Villa will be in Premier League action at home for the first time since Boxing Day when they host Newcastle United in a rearranged fixture tonight.
While most of the rest of the top flight focus on FA Cup matters, two sides in growing need of a victory will look to overturn their recent fortunes with three valuable Premier League points at Villa Park.
Today’s match pits the two Premier League clubs most affected by coronavirus against each other, with Newcastle still feeling some of the effects of the initial breakout which caused this fixture to be postponed on December 4.
Villa have since had to close their training ground for 10 days and go almost three weeks without a Premier League fixture, finally returning to top-flight action for the first time since New Year’s Day on Wednesday night.
It could hardly have been a tougher assignment for Dean Smith’s side as they came up against an in-form Manchester City side at the Etihad Stadium, but the visitors quickly shook off any rustiness and gave as good as they got for much of the contest.
In the end, a controversial opening goal saw Man City break the deadlock before Ilkay Gundogan wrapped up the victory from the penalty spot but, despite the frustrations which led to Smith being shown a red card on the touchline, he had plenty to be proud of from his side’s performance.
The roles will be very different for the visit of a floundering Newcastle side, with Villa going into the game as firm favourites despite now not tasting victory in the Premier League since Boxing Day.
The three games since that last win have been away to Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City – a difficult run from which Villa took just one point to fall into the bottom half of the table.
However, Villa perhaps more than anyone will be ignoring the standings at this stage given that they have as many as three games in hand over most teams, and victory in the first of those today would immediately catapult them back up to eighth, above the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal.
It may have come almost a full month ago, but Villa’s last home league game saw them end a four-match winless streak on their own turf with a confident 3-0 triumph over Crystal Palace.
The hosts may be quietly confident of something similar as they face a Newcastle side seemingly in freefall having picked up just two points from the last 21 available in the Premier League, rooting them firmly at the bottom of the form table.
The gap to the relegation zone remains a fairly comfortable seven points, but the pressure on manager Steve Bruce continues to grow and another convincing defeat today- which would be their fourth loss in a row in the league – would see questions over his future become even louder.
Perhaps the most concerning element of their recent run has been the manner in which the goals have dried up, with the Magpies finding the back of the net just once in their last five Premier League outings.
The picture does not get any prettier in all competitions either – just one goal in their last seven outings and no goals in their last five games away from home.
Indeed, the last time Newcastle scored an away goal in any competition was on December 16 in their 5-2 defeat at the hands of Leeds United, so their hopes of breaching what has been one of the league’s sturdiest defences so far this season look slim.
Newcastle have failed to score in their last three Premier League visits to Villa too, a run stretching back to 2013, but Bruce might take some encouragement from the fact that Villa have been better away from home than they have on their own turf so far this season.
The hosts have also only won one of their last 12 Premier League meetings with Newcastle, although that victory did come in this exact fixture last season to make it four games unbeaten against the Magpies.
Aston Villa possible XI: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett, Luiz, Nakamba, El Ghazi, Barkley, Grealish, Watkins.
Newcastle United possible XI: Darlow, Krafth, Lascelles, Clark, Lewis, Almiron, Shelvey, Hendrick, Fraser, Carroll, Wilson.