This weekend the Magpies play host to the Villians, three of which used to turn out in our colours – wasted loan signing Steven Ireland, Frenchman Charles N’Zogbia and the living legend that is Shay Given.
We will be looking to tighten our grip on a Europa Cup place, whilst Villa will want to push on and break into the the top 10. New recruit Robbie Keane appears to have injected some belief into their side and together with £24m man Darren Bent, they now have an impressive looking front line. Our firepower is not looking too shabby these days either, with the new arrival Papiss Cisse set to join mercurial goal scoring machine Demba Ba – so this has the makings of some great attacking play.
Cheik Tiote (Cote D’Ivoire) is still away at the African Cup of Nations. Yohan Cabaye is on game two of his three match ban for violent conduct, whilst Alan Smith has gone to see out his contract at MK Dons on loan and has been joined by young prospect James Tavernier. Long term absentees include Steven Taylor (achilles), Sylvain Marveaux (groin) and Sammy Ameobi (knee).
Squad from: Krul, Elliot, Perch, Simpson, Santon, Ferguson, Williamson, Kadar, Coloccini, Gosling, Abeid, Guthrie, Gutierrez, Vuckic, Ben Arfa, Obertan, Best, Ameobi Snr, Ba, Cisse, Lovenkrands.
Ex-Toon favourite Habib Beye has been released and looks set to join Doncaster. Gabby Abonlahor (hamstring), Marc Albrighton (thigh) and James Collins (calf) are all doubtful, whilst Nathan Delfounso (Leicester) and Fabian Delph (Leeds) have gone on loan. Chris Herd (ankle) is out and Eric Lichaj (hip) is their only long term layoff apart from Loan signing and former Toon player Jermaine Jenas, who ruptured his achilles and will be out for the season.
Squad from: Given, Guzan, Cuellar, Hutton, Clark, Warnock, Collins, Dunne, Gardner, Ireland, Bannan, Petrov, Nzogbia, Albrighton, Weimann, Bent, Keane, Heskey, Agbonlahor.
Shamrock’s Really Interesting Top 10 Facts And Stats:
1 – There have been 17 of this exact fixture since the formation of the Premier League. Newcastle have won 11 and drawn 4. The last time Villa won at St James’ Park was a 3-0 win in 2005, whilst they will be keen to avoid a repeat of their 6-0 loss here last season.
2 – Darren Bent is on form, with four goals in his last five games helping him to achieve 100 career Premier League goals.
3 – With so much potential for goals in our respective teams’ forward lines, it seems appropriate to mention that the biggest scoreline in this fixture came on 10th March 1928 when the Toon triumphed 7-5!
4 – In terms of Premier League consistency, Villa come out on top. They are 5th in the all time standings with a total points haul of 1079. We are 8th with a total of 991.
5 – Despite his absence at the ACoN, Demba Ba is still this season’s 2nd most deadly Premier League marksman with 15 goals to his name. Robin Van Persie (22 goals) is in pole position and Sergio Aguero (14 goals) is in 3rd.
6 – The Villains have finished inside the Premier League top six a total of nine times, only breaching the top four once. We have finished inside the top six a total of seven times, but breached the top four on five occasions.
7 – Villa have less shots on goal than us (189-212), less shots on taget than us (73-91), less shooting accuracy than us (39%-43%) and less goals than us (26-32).
8 – Elsewhere, we have a better total of passes made this season than our counterparts (6409-5633) whilst our defence has been marginally better with only 30 goals conceded against their 31.
9 – This week’s Birthday Boy is Darren Bent, who turns 28 on the 6th – the morning after this match. Lets hope our boys can make it a subdued one for him!
10 – Finally – Aston-Villa’s Stiliyan Petrov is looking for his 10th Career Premier League goal, whilst Newcastle’s Tim Krul will be hoping to keep his 40th career clean sheet.
Tactical thoughts and ponderings:
Aston Villa are not as average as the tables would suggest, but their manager probably is. Martin O’Neill’s last three seasons at Villa Park saw his side finish 6th in the table every time. Since then, first under Gerard Houllier and now Alex McLeish – Villa find themselves slowly slipping down the pecking order. Granted they have lost the likes of Ashley Young, Brad Friedel and Stewart Downing in that period, but they have picked up Charles N’Zogbia, Shay Given and Darren Bent in the process.
Villa have a good blend of ‘innocence and experience’ in their side with the likes of Barry Bannan, Ciaran Clark and Marc Albrighton all coming through the ranks to ply their trade alongside the auld tooth’s such as Stiliyan Petrov, Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane. Not only are they a good blend of age, they are a quality squad with pace, trickery and striking prowess complimenting an experienced and steady back line maybe lacking slightly in the mobility department.
They were very unlucky to be held by QPR after a bad start as they dominated possession and had more chances on goal. Maybe the age gap means communication breaks down, or maybe their midfield does not work hard enough defensively? With N’Zogbia and Ireland on each wing they certainly possess an attacking threat – the latter in particular has finally begun to start working for his team in recent weeks, but he is not exactly known for tracking back with any enthusiasm or commitment. Ciaran Clark has been playing in the centre of the park alongside Stiliyan Petrov. Now Petrov is a smooth midfielder who has a bit of everything in his bag, but Clark is young and maybe not quite up to it as a midfielder – I personally think he’s a future central defender.
Both Warnock and Hutton are reasonably consistent full backs, but again they are not the fastest anymore. Pacey wingers could trouble them. Given has been warned by his manager than Brad Guzan is pushing hard for his place in the side – are his cat-like reactions finally showing signs of wear and tear? Up front it will likely be Keane and Bent. Bent will no doubt be advanced, ready to pounce on any chances inside the area whilst Keane sits slightly back and looks to run at our defenders and shoot from outside the area. Neither of these two drop very deep, which means our midfield should have an opportunity here to apply the pressure.
Recently, the Villains have not been in a rush to get at teams. They sit back knocking the ball about hoping to walk the ball into the back of the net it seems. They try to keep numbers back to avoid their defenders being exposed for pace, then look to counter with the skills that Ireland, N’Zogbia, Bent and Keane possess with the accurate passing of Petrov to set them up. This is all well and good, but it does not play to their strengths – which brings me back to McLeish, or ‘Big Eck’. No wonder the Villa fans were furious with his appointment. He used to be boss of their close rivals and got them relegated. Hardly a glowing CV if you are a claret at heart…
The man is in possession of some of the best forward thinking players in the league. If he gave the Zog, Ireland, his forwards and Petrov licence to really go for it whilst sitting Clark in the anchorman position and keeping his defensive line reasonably deep then I reckon his side would easily be in the top eight. However, he seems fixated on negative, guarded football. The patient game does not suit them. N’Zogbia is one of the league’s finest dribblers. He also has a canny shot on him. Bent relies on swift forward play to ghost in behind defenders whilst they don’t have time to think and Ireland – if in the mood – can and will do special things with the ball when he is camped on that 30 yard line.
Making them sit back goes against their instincts and although it makes them dangerous on the counter, it subdues them for far too long. So, how do we take advantage of these things? Well lets start with our left side. Steven Ireland wont be tracking back and whilst Alan Hutton is reasonably talented and well timed in the tackle, his constant stream of injuries have taken away some of his pace and stamina. We need to really attack down the left. Cuellar and Dunne will eat up crosses all day, but cutting inside the box and running at them is a different story. I’d be encouraging Gutierrez to do this at every opportunity and have a pop if he can’t find our forwards. Davide Santon should not have a problem with Ireland’s pace and can support Guti, but he will have to be wary of Coloccini and Williamson needing cover to deal with Keane and Bent – so I’d encourage him to sit a bit higher than the central defenders, but make sure he gets back quickly when we are not in possession.
On the opposite wing Danny Simpson is going to struggle with N’Zogbia, who has pace to burn and trickery galore. He can cross and shoot well and will be dangerous. The last thing we need is Simmo getting too advanced and losing the ball with a stray pass then getting stranded. He HAS to stay back in my opinion, as he needs to conserve his energy in order to be prepared for the occasions that his French counterpart gets forward.
With no Tiote or Cabaye, we have a slight problem when it comes to stamina and aggression through the middle. This could be a problem for us and the only way I can see us countering it, is to go 4-3-3. Gosling sat in the middle with the mobility to step back and assist our central defenders with slightly deep sitting Keane, with Guti and Guthrie either side of him, but reasonably wide. Guti advanced to really attack them and Guthrie staying back to spray the ball about and cover Simmo due to the threat of Petrov and the Zog.
Now then, the exciting bit. Villa are strong, good in the tackle and good in the air defensively. However, they are definitely slow and this is where our lads can really get at them. I’d be playing either Obertan or preferably Ben Arfa as a deep seated forward with two dedicated strikers in front of him. They can run all day and snake into the box, drawing fouls or shooting into the space made by the forwards drawing defenders out of position. This ensures one of Villa’s central midfielders is kept back, ensuring our own midfield is not over-run.
We have had the ‘Should Cisse Start?’ conversation and having really thought about it, I think the answer is yes. Ba has it all as we already know and will offer a physical presence up front, whilst from what we are told Cisse will offer that proper poacher mentality. Ideal for this game, as he is the sort of player Dunne and Cuellar will not relish playing against. Ameobi would be good for them, as he is big and slow – like them. They would not have too much trouble containing him, so for me Shola sits out against these very physical defenders. Leon Best should be on the bench, but at the end of the day Cisse is fit and needs Premier League experience – where better for him to start than at St James’ Park in font of his home crowd against a slow defence?
Tactically, it goes without saying this only works if we are pressing. I think there is enough balance there to keep us covered defensively, but accept we will lose the ball often and be prone to counters. However, the potential benefits of this game plan far outweigh the potential pitfalls, so I say lets really go for it! If we do, I can a comfortable two goal win, lets just hope the flat boring Newcastle don’t make an appearance!
50-year-ols Mark Halsey takes the reigns for this one. He is Hertfordhire born and now a resident of Bolton. This is his 12th season as Premier League referee, so he is very experienced. He took the League Cup final of 2008 and has International football under his belt. We have won only 8 of the 24 games he has officiated, whilst Villa have won only 10 of the 32 he has taken for them – so no patterns to be wary of. This season was the man in the middle for our victory over Wolves, whilst he has taken Villa’s loss to Spurs and win against Chelsea.
A word from Demba Ba:
“It’s great to be back with the team, It’s been a while, and I’m very happy to be here. Now that I’m back I just have to forget about the African Cup of Nations and concentrate on the league with Newcastle. I got a very nice welcome from everybody at the training ground, all the players and staff. They were happy to see me, and I was happy to see them as well. It feels like I’m at home. It’s nice to be welcomed like that by the lads, and it was good to see them again. We had a great training session on Friday and I’d love to play a part against Aston Villa on Sunday.”
On signing Cisse:
“I was very pleased when we signed him – I think he’s going to be a very good player for Newcastle. He knows how to score goals, and he’s proved that throughout his career. I would love the chance to play with him here. I’ve played with him for country and I like playing with Papiss – he’s a magnificent striker. I hope we’re going to have a good player.”
On running out at St James’ Park:
“I can’t wait to do that,” he smiled. “I’ve missed everything about the place; the atmosphere, the fans all shouting – I love that. And I hope it’s going to continue like that on Sunday.”
Date: Sunday 5th February 2012
Kick Off: 13:30
Venue: St James’ Park
Howay the lads!