Six points from games against Liverpool and Tottenham was an outcome few could predict and now this week Newcastle are favourites as they welcome bottom club Aston Villa to St. James’ Park.
Unbeaten in their last 8 matches against Villa (5 wins, 3 draws), here are four reasons why Newcastle will make it three wins in a row:
The Schmeichel-esque Rob Elliot
When Tim Krul suffered a season ending injury, some Newcastle fans were concerned. With back-up Karl Darlow also injured, the pressure was on third-choice Rob Elliot to step into a struggling Newcastle team.
Elliot has proven any fears to be misplaced, his command of the defence and his distribution abilities have improved Newcastle dramatically. A string of match-winning performances has drawn comparisons to the legendary Peter Schmeichel; the distance Elliot gains on his throws has been crucial to Newcastle’s counter attacking ability in recent weeks.
Elliot gives the defence confidence and the range of options available when he has ball in hand has a fundamental change on Newcastle’s overall approach. Newcastle can attack knowing that, should they concede possession, Aston Villa will struggle to find a way past the Irishman, and the more they try, the more they become vulnerable to the counter-attacks Elliot loves to start.
The goalkeeper is crucial to Newcastle’s chances of victory; expect more plaudits for the excellent Elliot come full-time.
Newcastle have played four games with Sissoko, Wijnaldum and a fully-fit Colback as three of a four-man midfield. In the first, they were defeating title-holders Chelsea, only losing a two-goal lead after Jack Colback departed through injury, and even then only to two hit-and-hope flukes.
In the second, they showed an attacking verve and intent that ended with Georginio Wijnaldum, the Dutch Player of the Year, scoring four goals and Moussa Sissoko claiming three assists in a 6-2 win that brimmed with verve and confidence.
In the third, they brushed Liverpool aside with a comfortable 2-0 win, with two Wijnaldum goals (one later credited to Skrtel) proving the difference between the teams.
Last weekend Newcastle ended Tottenham’s 14-match unbeaten run, the midfield maestros instrumental in turning a 1-0 deficit into another victory.
The evidence is clear: in this formation, nobody can handle the three amigos in the Newcastle midfield. Aston Villa are, by some distance, the worst team in the league; expect Colback, Sissoko and Wijnaldum to have too much for Villa to handle.
Armed in Attack
Papiss Cisse’s restoration to the starting line-up against Crystal Palace brought a goal within 10 minutes. Aleksandar Mitrovic’s introduction last weekend saw him score one and create a second for Ayoze Perez in the closing stages against Spurs. Newcastle’s back-to-back wins have coincided with Siem de Jong starting consecutive games for the first time since his arrival on Tyneside.
Newcastle have four forward players with distinctly different styles and abilities, which makes it difficult for the Villa defence to prepare.
The partnership of de Jong and Cisse is a different threat altogether from that of Mitrovic and Perez; should McClaren start with a different combination, it will be nigh-on impossible for Villa to predict how Newcastle will attack.
Expect Newcastle to start with the strike force that finished against Spurs; the combination of Mitrovic’s power and aerial threat and Perez’s technique, skill and pace will create numerous chances, for both themselves and the talismanic Wijnaldum. An early goal could open the floodgates.
It is important to treat all opponents with respect, but it is more important to see things how they are.
Aston Villa are the worst team in the Premiership by some distance. They have no wins since the opening day of the season. They are adrift at the bottom of the league, the only club with a points haul still in single figures. They have, by far, the worst goal difference in the league; the impotence of their attack matched only by the openness of their defence.
Remi Garde is the fifth person to fill in a team sheet for Villa in 2015, having replaced Tim Sherwood a few weeks ago. Garde has had a negligible impact on Villa’s performances, with two draws and three defeats suggesting Newcastle were correct to decline his application to replace Alan Pardew.
Garde stated: “We concede too many goals, but we are not conceding by four or five goals”, but they did just that in his second match, being stuffed 4-0 by Everton, and followed that up by conceding three at home to Watford.
They enter this game without their best defender, Micah Richards, which makes their task even harder.
As long as Newcastle stay calm, professional and play their football the way they have in recent weeks, there is only one outcome. Newcastle have more quality, ability and threat in every area of the field.
Even if Aston Villa fluke a goal, their defence is too poor to prevent Newcastle rattling in three or four in return.
In 2009, Villa mocked the Geordies (Newcastle fans pictured at the top of the article on that day at Villa Park) as relegation was confirmed; in 2015, the reality is there is no Messiah coming for Villa.
Someone is due a hiding from Newcastle; how fitting it would be if it came this weekend.
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