Steve Bruce has a rare opportunity to rack up three successive Premier League wins against his former club Aston Villa.
His opposite number, Dean Smith, was his successor at Villa Park and managed to deliver the promotion that Bruce failed to, so our current boss will be keen to get one over on the Midland club, with a strong team expected.
Although he will have one eye on the weekend, below we detail the side we think will start later tonight:
(4-2-3-1): Dubravka – Yedlin, Lascelles, Fernandez, Rose – Hayden, Bentaleb – Saint-Maximin, Almiron, Ritchie – Joelinton.
Since changing to a back four, Martin Dubravka hasn’t conceded a goal in the league and he will be full of confidence going into this match.
Aston Villa are very poor at the back, but they do offer a threat going forwards. At the weekend, they were dangerous from set pieces, with their goal coming from a corner. Our number one didn’t have a lot to do against Sheffield United, but he is always reliable when needed. A straight forward decision for Bruce to start with him.
There are options at right back and this is one of the positions that Bruce could rotate. DeAndre Yedlin is a candidate to start, with Javier Manquillo needed to be at his best at the weekend. The USA international offers pace and a bigger threat in the attacking half. If he does get the nod, he will be hoping to re-establish himself as a solid option.
Despite the strength in depth at centre-back, the current pairing of Federico Fernandez and Jamaal Lascelles has kept three Premier League clean sheets on the bounce. It would be foolish to make a change there, as we need to maintain our solidity heading into the FA Cup match against Manchester City. This will be another chance for the pair to increase their match sharpness.
The left back position will be the problematic one for Bruce in the coming weeks, as there is a lack of cover for Danny Rose. It was an improved performance for the loanee against Sheffield United as he made four ball recoveries and displayed good distribution from the back. He may not last the ninety minutes, but he is likely to start.
This is where further rotation could come into play, with Jonjo Shelvey unlikely to be able to play three times inside seven days. This could present a chance to Nabil Bentaleb, who needs to impress to convince the club to make a permanent move. An average of 4.3 ball recoveries per game since arriving shows a good tenacity in central areas. If he is to show his quality, we need to see more from him in possession. An excellent goal during one of the practice matches may give him confidence for the restart.
Isaac Hayden was excellent against Sheffield United, with some suggesting he was the standout performer. The Englishman made three ball recoveries, won two aerial duels and made two key passes, displaying how he can contribute in both halves of the pitch. He also got the assist for Matt Ritchie’s goal.
The performances of the three attacking midfield players against Sheffield United means it is very difficult to drop any of them. That said, there is likely to be more proactivity when it comes to substitutions.
Matt Ritchie was excellent against Sheffield United, as he got a goal and assist. This silenced the critics that believe he can’t contribute as an attacker in the Premier League any more. Bruce knows that he brings leadership on the pitch and he should start the match on the right.
There is more to come from Miguel Almiron, but he was a constant threat at the weekend, with his pace causing issues. He made three key passes in the match, including an assist for Joelinton’s goal. A pass success rate of 91% is particularly impressive considering the areas of the pitch that he operates in.
The reason more and more neutrals are tuning in to watch Newcastle is for Allan Saint-Maximin. The Frenchman was at his entertaining best against Sheffield United, as he made it two goals in two Premier League matches. During the contest, he completed seven dribbles and regularly put the opposition defence on the back foot. He will cause similar problems for Villa.
He remains a source of disagreement on social media, but Joelinton had one of his best performances for Newcastle at the weekend. It would be silly to drop or rest him, as he need him to build momentum. Against Sheffield United, he won six aerial duels and had four shots, before ultimately getting one of their players sent off. The Brazilian did make a mess of one great chance, but he stuck to it and got a goal in the second half.
Hopefully this is the start of a much improved run of form.