Newcastle United travel to Birmingham to take on Aston Villa in their first away match of the season, as they attempt to bounce back from a 0-2 loss to Manchester City. Villa are riding high after a convincing 1-0 victory over Stoke City. They are looking to improve on last season's less than stellar record against mid-table teams, so this is a good early test for both teams.
Newcastle defeated Villa both times the teams met last year. The first, a 2-1 victory at Villa Park in September, was one of Hatem Ben Arfa's last great performances and is basically ancient history. Their 1-0 win in February was noteworthy in that Loic Remy scored in stoppage time to prevent a fifth straight match with no Newcastle goals. It was basically the lone bright spot of the second half of the season.
If you'd like to look a little further in the past, you may remember that Aston Villa happened to be the last squad that Newcastle faced in their relegation season, and that the Toon got their revenge a year and a half later when they came away with a 6-0 win at Villa Park in their second game back in the Premier League.
Alan Pardew says he expects Siem de Jong to be back in the squad, but that he must still pass a fitness test in order to play. I wouldn't be surprised if he came off the bench on Saturday. Cheik Tiote is still nursing a hamstring and will not feature. Has he played his last match in a Newcastle shirt? Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa is out with a short-term injury, and returns of Ryan Taylor, Papiss Cisse, and Davide Santon are not anticipated.
For Villa, new signings Joe Cole and Carlos Sanchez will reportedly be available for Paul Lambert. Defender Jores Okore could play for the first time in 11 months following a knee injury, but appears to be a bit of a long shot. Christian Benteke and Libor Kozak are still out with long-term ailments.
Aston Villa played a solid match defensively last week against Stoke City, and they were able to grab a goal when Andreas Weimann took advantage of a Stoke meltdown to slot home near the beginning of the second half. Weimann wasn't exactly influential for the majority of the match, however, and until Benteke returns, the Villans will continue to rely on moments of fortune from him and from Darren Bent, who has returned after a season-long loan at Craven Cottage. Villa has scored exactly one goal in 6 of the last 7 matches these two teams have met.
Newcastle have had their own scoring problems since the departure of Yohan Cabaye, and attempted to address those this summer with the purchase of several midfielders and forwards, many of whom featured in last week's 0-2 loss to Manchester City. Emmanuel Rivière was one of those, and while he was able to hold up play and create chances for himself effectively, looked panicky in front of goal and was unable to generate a quality shot. He scored 4 goals during Newcastle's preseason campaign, but Alan Pardew is expected to give him some help in the form of on-loan Facundo Ferreyra, and it certainly wouldn't be a surprise to see them play a more traditional 4-4-2 away from home. The Toon's defensive problems persist, but playing a less threatening opponent this week could mean that wingers Rémy Cabella and Yoan Gouffran (if he plays) may be more free to be aggressive on the offensive side.
The introduction of Siem de Jong could mean that Yoan Gouffran is the odd man out. If he goes, Moussa Sissoko will likely move to the wing, a move that will surely rankle the fanbase. Elsewhere, Pardew is expected to continue to place faith in Paul Dummett for some reason. I'm going to cheat and make two guesses. The first is more likely.
Krul | Janmaat, Williamson, Coloccini, Dummett | Colback, Anita | Cabella, De Jong, Sissoko | Rivière
Krul | Janmaat, Williamson, Coloccini, Dummett | Sissoko, Anita, De Jong, Cabella | Ferreyra, Rivière
The second formation puts more pressure on Anita (or Colback) and handcuffs Sissoko a bit. Ideally, Newcastle can roll with one striker and let the midfielders create, but if Rivière struggles, Pardew may be forced to shuffle the deck and provide more options up top. Be prepared for the very real possibility of hoofball, even after last week's positive performance.
Paul Lambert's dilemma is an interesting one, because he'll want to improve on Villa's lackluster record at home last season, but defense is clearly his strength. I've borrowed 7500 to Holte's probable lineup:
Guzan | Hutton, Vlaar, Senderos, Cissokho | Sanchez, Delph | N'Zogbia, Richardson, Weimann | Bent
This feels like a 1-0 match, but for which team, I'm afraid to say. I'll attempt to avoid bad juju and say that Rivière finds the back of the net.