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Newcastle United v Aston Villa- In any other season, it would be a Premier League match

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Newcastle United will face Aston Villa on Monday night, in a fixture in which the Magpies simply have to maintain their focus and take three points from. 

Aston Villa v Newcastle United - Premier League
Aleksandar Mitrovic looks dejected at Villa Park.
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

The biggest decision for Rafa Benitez to make is whether or not Dwight Gayle plays from the start. The striker made his return from a hamstring injury off the bench during the Carrow Road stalemate. If he is not deemed ready to start, then Aleksandar Mitrovic will likely get the nod for the third successive game.

Benitez confirmed in his press conference that midfielder Isaac Hayden has had to undergo a minor operation on a niggling ankle injury. The former Arsenal fan had been playing through the pain barrier in recent weeks, but will now miss the next month or so.

However, on the Brightside, Vurnon Anita, who had an ankle problem of his own, has returned to training and may be fit for a place on the bench. It is likely that DeAndre Yedlin will keep his place at right back.

Rolando Aarons could also resume training within the next week, which is a massive boost for both the player and the team. The 21 year old was due to miss the whole season.

As for who may start, both Christian Atsu and Mo Diame will be pushing to start. The former impressed yet again off the bench last time out, whilst Diame will have to usurp Perez from the XI. This of course may prove difficult after the Spaniard scored the opener against Norwich.

Also, with Hayden ruled out, the likelihood is that Jack Colback will continue alongside Jonjo Shelvey. However, a surprise may well be sprung by Benitez in the form of Chancel Mbemba.

The mood in the Villa camp could not be more different than the mood on Tyneside. After defeat at home to Barnsley, the Villains sit in 16th place, eerily close to the relegation places.

They are likely to be without both Neil Taylor and new signing James Bree. Taylor is suffering from an ankle injury and Bree has a knee problem.

Another who will not feature is Gabriel Agbonlahor, who picked up a hamstring injury last month.

Mile Jedinak will probably make his return however, after sitting out the previous five matches with a groin problem. If he is passed fit, he will slot in alongside the pantomime villain Henri Lansbury, who will finally face up to Newcastle fans after missing the clash for Forest earlier in the season.

Nottingham Forest v Arsenal - EFL Cup Third Round
Henri Lansbury will receive a hostile reception.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Their back four could remain unchanged, which would mean Jordan Amavi and Alan Hutton will keep their places in the full-back berths.

Albert Adomah has proved to be the visitors’ most consistent performer, alongside Jonathan Kodjia. Both will play from the start.

Big money signing Scott Hogan will start again, even though the Salford-born striker is yet to find the net for his new club.

The game really does have a big feel to it. As poor as Villa have been this season, they still remain a tough opponent. Should Newcastle win, they will set themselves up very nicely for a very difficult period of fixtures.

Likely Line ups

Newcastle: Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Shelvey, Colback, Ritchie, Perez, Atsu, Gayle

Villa: Johnstone, Hutton, Baker, Chester, Amavi, Jedinak, Lansbury, Adomah, Hourihane, Kodjia, Hogan

Score prediction: Newcastle United 2-1 Aston Villa

The match has indeed been selected to be broadcasted live on Sky Sports. You can also follow the game by tuning into BBC Radio Newcastle’s live match commentary, courtesy of the official NUFC website.