The dreaded international break is finally over, but we must wait until Monday night in our bid to make it three wins on the spin.
Bruce returns to Villa Park with a point to prove just one year on from his sacking. He’ll be in a confident mood based on the form table, with us taking 7 points from a possible 9 just as Villa have lost three on the spin, however I fully expect this to be a very tough game.
We were all over a West Ham side who played into our hands in our last away game, but I expect Villa to be much more competitive, energetic and organised.
They’ve have Jack Grealish back – their talisman and key creator in midfield – and look set to field a full strength side for the first time in weeks, so they’ll be up for this one in a bid to get back on track under the lights at Villa Park.
There’s been some mixed injury news over the international break, but we still look set to field a strong side come Monday night.
Jamaal Lascelles is out and Clark may join him on the sidelines if he fails to recover from a hamstring issue over the weekend, but with Schar and Lejeune back in contention and the reliable Fernandez and Dummett on hand, Bruce will still have at least FOUR capable centre-backs to choose from.
I personally can’t see him risking Clark and think it would be unnecessary to throw Lejeune straight back in after 7 months out, especially when Dummett is more than capable of coming in at the left-side of a back three. Elsewhere, I’d expect Schar to come back in, with the brilliant Fernandez a ready-made replacement for Lascelles in the middle.
In midfield, with Sean Longstaff suspended and Shelvey in good form, I’d expect the latter to partner Isaac Hayden once again.
As for the front three, we’ve seen positive signs from them all in recent weeks. They’re starting to combine well on the counter and carry a consistent threat, but all are in desperate need of a goal. Let’s hope that arrives for at least one of them on Monday night!
Preferred NUFC XI – (5-2-2-1) – Dubravka – Yedlin, Schar, Fernandez, Dummett, Willems – Hayden, Shelvey – Almiron, Saint-Maximin – Joelinton.
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in Dean Smith’s Villa side:
John McGinn – The Scottish international looks capable of playing in a top six side for me, being tenacious off the ball but both creative and capable of scoring on it. Few players have had more shots outside the box than him this season, so Shelvey can’t afford a lax performance here.
Wesley Moraes – The big Brazilian was a target of Rafa Benitez’s before he completed a £20m move to Villa, but he’s been a bit of an enigma so far this season. At times he’s looked unplayable, with his hold up play, power and work ethic outstanding in their Monday night win over Everton earlier in the season and 5-1 win over Norwich, yet he’s then looked sluggish and sloppy (and lacking a footballing brain) the other times we’ve seen him.
Jack Grealish – They’ve missed him badly over the past few weeks, losing three on the spin in his absence, so his return will be a huge boost. He’s been their talisman over the past 18 months and has started this season with 2 goals and 3 assists, creating more chances per 90 minutes than any other player outside the top six.
Predicted Villa XI (4-3-3): Heaton – Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Targett – Douglas Luiz, Nakamba, McGinn – El Ghazi, Wesley, Grealish.
Jamaal Lascelles has been ruled out with a knee fracture, Matt Ritchie is still not read, Sean Longstaff is suspended for the final time and Ciaran Clark may be touch or go after picking up a hamstring issue with Ireland.
On the plus side, Fabian Schar and Florian Lejeune have been declared fit to return.
For the home side, captain Jack Grealish looks set to return after a month on the sidelines, while first team regulars Tom Heaton (GK), Bjorn Engels (CB) and Matt Targett (LB) have also been declared fit to start.
I’m wary of this game.
We have the form and the momentum, but Villa have been competitive against Man City and Liverpool in two of their last three and are welcoming back several key player ahead of a game they’ll be desperate to win after slipping to 17th.
We’ll be confident and motivated to keep the good run going, but Villa will almost certainly make us work for it MUCH more than a woeful West Ham did in our last away outing.
I think they’ll beat us if we’re not ‘at it’, but I have faith in our defence and believe we’ll cause them real problems out wide.
Prediction: Aston Villa 1-1 Newcastle
Howay the lads!