Newcastle United travel to Villa Park to take on Aston Villa in their first away match of the season on Saturday. To better understand the opponent, I sat down with Aaron Campeau of SBN's Aston Villa blog, 7500 to Holte.
Coming Home Newcastle: Villa's back four stepped up in a big way in the opener against Stoke City. What can we expect from that group moving forward?
7500 to Holte: This is actually a pretty good back line. Ron Vlaar is an absolute rock (even if it took a stellar World Cup for a fair number of Villa fans to finally admit it) and Aly Cissohko and Alan Hutton (believe it or not) have looked more than serviceable out wide. The real question is over the second CB spot, and though Philippe Senderos is performed exceptionally well against Stoke, most Villa fans are waiting for the day that Jores Okore slides into that spot and makes it his own.
Overall, though? The defense isn't near the top of the list of concerns right now, and that's a pretty major relief.
CHN: Who is one under-the-radar player for Villa that could play a significant role this weekend?
7500: Leandro Bacuna. He's far from a guaranteed starter-God only knows his best position-but aside from Christian Benteke he's the only player in the team capable of producing something jaw-dropping and unexpected. There are better players in the side, but Bacuna is worth keeping an eye on at all times and that kind of excitement has been sorely missing these past few years.
CHN: If you were Alan Pardew, how would you approach this match against Villa?
7500: Bunker. This team is capable of producing some very special moments when given space in which to operate, but they're utterly hopeless when it comes to breaking down the opposition. If Newcastle get the first goal it's beyond an uphill climb, and any side that's not in the mix for Europe should absolutely be sitting back and waiting for them to make the first mistake.
CHN: What has to happen this year for you to consider the season a success?
7500: Given the way the schedule lines up Villa's almost certain to be in the relegation mix come December, so I'll say working their way clear of the bottom five-ish by early spring would be about right. I think this is a good enough team to make a real push for the top half, but if they can make it to the winter window without looking like relegation fodder, that's a victory of sorts.
CHN: Would you like to make a prediction for the match?
7500: I'll say 1-1. Without Benteke this just isn't a team that's going to produce many goals, and though the defense looks to be greatly improved it's still got some major holes. Still, they're not so hopeless that I'm content to predict a clean sheet, and I'm really, really high on the defense right now.
My thanks to Aaron Campeau for taking the time to make this happen. Please visit 7500 to Holte for all things Aston Villa.