What a game to kick the season off!
Tonali came out of the gate flying high. Villa found a quick equalizer. Game on.
Where would the storylines go from there? The play was open and squads were about even early doors.
One of the side stories generated from Newcastle’s addition of Sandro Tonali was concerning set pieces. Kieran Trippier has been the clear choice for taking most set pieces since his arrival on Tyneside. Tonali had been the set piece taker for AC Milan last season. How would the melding of the team work this out?
The general consensus has seemed to be that Trippier would continue to be the first-choice set piece taker and that has proven to be true through the summer. However, it was reasonable to expect the coaching staff to develop new set plays for the new season and to get everyone involved. It took exactly 15 minutes into the new season until they unveiled a play from the training ground.
With a free kick awarded about 40 yards out and faded slightly to the left side of the pitch, Trippier stood over the ball. The Aston Villa players set their defensive line about 25 yards out. The most typical play would be for a kick on a diagonal to the right end of the line to be headed back into the center of the pitch for an attempted strike. But with Tonali on the pitch, he took the seemingly innocuous position of being even with Trippier but towards the right sideline. Instead of the standard play, Trips shifted the ball to Tonali to change the point of attack.
A key next aspect of the set—piece play will have been almost transparent to everyone except Matty Cash. Dan Burn’s role was to stand still in the way of Cash so he could not follow the run of Sven Botman or Joelinton.
It is interesting here to remember an interview Burn had as a part of the summer series in the USA. He was asked a series of human interest questions such as which player in the squad would most likely win an Oscar (Jacob Murphy) or which one would invent something that would change the world (Sean Longstaff).
One question was which player would most likely play in the NFL? His first choice was himself and he’d probably be a tight end. Well, he provided a block on this play any tight end would be proud enough of.
Matty Cash could not get around the stationary Burn and crumpled to the ground. It kept Botman completely free to extend his leg to cause the ball to fall into the path of Isak for the go-ahead and effectively winning goal. Set (piece).
From there, Newcastle simply ran Aston Villa into the ground. To be fair, they were without Buendia (who tore his ACL in the training session right before the game) and it is sad to see any player have to come off injured and certainly so only a few minutes into a new season as happened to Tyrone Mings. But Aston Villa, as a team, were on wobbly legs from the 70th minute onward. Their fitness levels were just not good enough.
The 5-1 score line resembles the 6-1 score line vs. Spurs late last season but this was a different style of game. Where the April match was a whirlwind of football elegance that had the Tottenham players’ heads spinning, this was a bulldozer of an effort where our pace ground the Villa players into the sod. They had nothing convincing going forward and were exposed in getting back. Match.