Newcastle United visit Villa Park on Sunday in a rematch of an early-season clash that saw Newcastle taking away a 6-0 victory.
Follow the jump for this week's match preview, including CHN's Three Keys to Victory.
Newcastle United FC
9th place, 39 points, 10-9-12
Injured (Out):, , ,
Otherwise Ineligible: Stephen Ireland
Projected XI: Harper | Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Jose Enrique | Barton, Guthrie, RTaylor, Jonás | Lovenkrands, Ameobi
16th place, 34 points, 8-10-13
Injured (Out): None
Injured (Questionable): None
Projected XI: Friedel | Walker, Collins, Dunne, L Young | Makoun, Petrov | Downing, Young, Albrighton | Bent
Match Official: Mark Holsey
What a difference a week makes. A week ago we were all worried about the upcoming fixture with Wolverhampton, fearing that if the worst should happen, Newcastle would be dragged into a relegation battle. I spent the last week reading stories that called this team anything from "all but safe" to "competing for a Top 6 spot." While the former sounds a bit jinx-y and the latter sounds crazy delusional, there's no denying that a weight feels like it has just about been lifted off of our collective shoulders. Going into this match, I almost don't care if the Magpies achieve a point; in fact, a draw sounds pretty fantastic right about now, thank you very much.
There's little doubt that Villans feel quite like we did a week ago. A victory would put them just about out of reach, while a loss would feel like the end of the world. We know what's it like to be in their position - just as they know what it's like to be in a relegation battle, as we were two years ago. There are many in the Toon Army that remember all too well the songs and banners as the Villa Park faithful reveled in our misfortune, and certainly there are just as many who feel that 6-0 early in the season wasn't quite enough revenge; that sending them on their way to the Championship would be delicious karmic justice. I understand your bitterness and resolve if you're one of them. Sports Hate can be a delicious thing if channeled properly, and I don't want to take that away from you. Just keep some perspective, will you? Newcastle face an uphill climb this week, and I don't expect Alan Pardew to go all in to push a draw into a win, and nor should you. A point will be more than satisfactory, especially given the circumstances.
Alan Pardew will once again have his hands tied when it comes to selection, this week more than normal. Cheik Tiote and Kevin Nolan, arguably the two most important players to this squad, not to mention the midfield, are both suspended. Relief from injury comes in the form of Jose Enrique Sanchez, who is expected to retake his spot at left back, but one must wonder if he is once again being rushed back too soon. If he is able to play, the starting back four will be together for the first time in what feels like ages, which should be an advantage, though Darren Bent is no slouch, as Newcastle fans are well aware.
The deficiencies with the striking corps are well documented, especially on this blog, so I won't rehash them. Phil Airey, who has emerged as Alan Pardew's apparent favorite on the reserve squad, has been told to expect to play. If he is selected ahead of Nile Ranger, I'm going to tear my hair out.
Of course, there's the midfield. Possession through the midfield was the Toon's bread and butter against the Wolves last week, but to expect a repeat of that performance would be foolhardy at best. I expect a return to a strategy of lobbing long, hopeful balls over the top, followed by this crew's inability to contain the counterattack.
One can take solace in this fact: Villa loves to attack down the wing, and Newcastle are actually quite proficient at funneling attacks to the middle of the pitch. What happens when the ball arrives there will be anybody's guess, but if Joey Barton and Jonás Gutiérrez are able to contain Ashley Young (assuming he plays wide) and Stuart Downing, a positive result is possible.
Three Keys to Victory
1) Abandon the "Lob and Hope" Strategy
This is a lot to ask for from the likes of Peter Lovenkrands, whose entire offensive game seems to be built around making off-the-shoulder runs, but Newcastle was effective last week because they controlled the ground game. They must attempt to control possession to have hope, and that means not giving the ball away on a prayer.
2) Produce Quality Set Pieces
Joey Barton has struggled with his delivery on set pieces of late, yet they continue to be a strength for the club. To say that the Magpies expect to be dominated in open play is an understatement, so they will have to draw even through other methods. Now would be a great time for Mike Williamson to produce that goal I've been calling for for weeks now.
3) Be Cool
The Villans are nervous. If Joey Barton and crew come in sliding all over the place and raising the temperature of the match with their breakneck style of attack, the crowd is going to be into it. AV plays much better at home than they do on the road, and they don't need any extra motivation.
Prediction: AVFC 2, NUFC 1