Three Points, Two Goals and One Genius – Villa v Newcastle
Aston Villa 1
Newcastle United 2
Saturday 14 September 3pm
The scoreline and the result may well have been the same as the same fixture last season but this was a different performance from Newcastle United. Rather than hang on in the dying moments, Newcastle performed very well for large swathes of the game, only really allowing Villa to be in the ascendancy briefly in the middle of the second half.
With no first team players injured or unavailable (Jonas and Tiote both have to prove their form before being given those labels back) Pardew picked an aggressive and exciting team that gave a lot of Newcastle fans optimism before the three o’clock kick off.
The team gelled and played well for the most part with as comfortable a 2-1 victory as you’re likely to see. Despite a Villa equaliser, the Magpies never panicked and quickly found themselves in front once again before taking the sting out of the game and coasting to victory. Some in the press even branded the performance “consummate”. Who would have thought that so soon after the disastrous performance against Manchester City?
When the team sheets were announced before the game Newcastle fans were ecstatic to be shown what appeared on paper to be a 4-3-3. For much of last season the Geordie faithful implored Pardew to revisit the 4-3-3 that had been so devastating at the end of the 11-12 season when Newcastle came within a whisker of finishing in fourth place.
On paper it may have been a 4-3-3 but in practice it was more of a 4-2-3-1, a formation that failed time and again last season no matter how many attempts Pardew gave it. The difference against Aston Villa on Sunday was Newcastle for once had the players to fit, rather than crowbar players into uncomfortable positions (Cisse on the right wing, Sissoko as a No. 10).
Sissoko and Anita kept their places at the base of midfield after solid performances against West Ham and Fulham. The pair appear to complement one another nicely in the centre of the park, Sissoko the big bulldozer (although he showed some guile on the ball against Villa) and Anita the delicate passer.
Cabaye was played further forward, given more attacking duties – although he constantly pressured the Villa back four and refused to give them time on the ball. He tired towards the end, suffering the effects of missing two games (let’s not mention why) but the 90 minutes under his belt should work wonders.
Cisse was flanked be Frenchmen Ben Arfa and Remy, an attacking line up dating back to January in the dreams of some Toon fans when Remy was first approached by the Magpies.
With Aston Villa playing 4-3-3 and happy, in the first half at least, to sit back and soak up pressure, Newcastle enjoyed a lot of the ball early on and looked comfortable. Newcastle were far from deadly but created a lot of chances, albeit few clear cut.
Anita was solid again, but unspectacular. Of all midfielders he had the lowest amount of touches at just 39 and passes at just 34 (88% accuracy) but he made two tackles (one which led to Ben Arfa’s opener) and two clearances in what was a comfortable day at the office.
Ben Arfa will rightfully earn all the headlines after another virtuoso attacking display (more on this later) but Sissoko is going from strength to strength in the middle of the park and was easily Newcastle’s best midfielder on the day. With Cabaye ahead, Sissoko was able to concentrate more on his defensive duties and only break forward when he knew Cabaye was prepared to cover.
Sissoko was all over the pitch, completing 66 passes (almost double Anita’s) at 86% accuracy. The former Toulouse man also had one accurate through ball and four key passes, playing 90 minutes and shining. The only blot on his copybook when he lost Benteke for the equaliser, although he wasn’t helped by Krul’s goalkeeping.
Cabaye, starting for the first time since Arsenal’s bid on the eve of the Manchester City game was also solid but struggled to really impose himself on the game in the manner that Newcastle fans would hope. He gave away two fouls, one a booking and managed two shots, one which flew across the face of the goal just begging to be tapped in. If Pardew is to persist with him in a No. 10 role, he’ll have to improve at finding space for himself, he found himself marked out of the game for patches, being able to find space to work will be paramount.
Newcastle’s afternoon would’ve been a lot easier if Fabian Delph hadn’t been lined up against them. The Englishman continued his fine form with another excellent performance. He made a massive seven tackles, three interceptions and completed 50 passes. He can be very happy with his performance, unlike the rest of the Villa midfield.
Last season, with Newcastle’s injury nightmare there was never an established back four. It may have taken Steven Taylor’s sending off against Manchester City but now it looks like Pardew has found his four. Santon, Yanga-Mbiwa, Collocini and Debuchy have shut down their opponents well so far this season; although Agbonlahor missed a golden opportunity, aside from that Villa rarely threatened. To limit any side at home to not a single shot on target from open play is a record to be proud of.
Yanga-Mbiwa in particular played very well on Saturday afternoon, doing his best to challenge Benteke physically but also showing maturity by standing off his man when far enough away from goal and instead challenging for the second ball. He picked up a booking but four interceptions, eight clearances while giving away just two fouls is a good record for any centre back. His positional play was excellent but when it was required he made two excellent sliding tackles.
Before the game it was highlighted how key Debuchy would be in keeping Agbonlahor under wraps. The winger/striker is in good form at the start of this Premier League season and his runs on the left side of the pitch were always going to prove a handful to Debuchy.
Thankfully Debuchy played well and timed his tackles well all day, making six, Newcastle busiest player in that department. He also made eight clearances, tied with Yanga-Mbiwa. He had poor pass accuracy at just 71% but made up for it, winning 63% of his aerial battles and showing again that’s he’s good at judging the long ball.
Santon was marshalling Weimann and preferred to step up and make the interception (he made five all game) rather than be taken down the line. Because he didn’t have to worry about Weimann’s pace Santon was able to play more of an attacking role than Debuchy going forward but Debuchy still managed more touches of the ball. Debuchy to Ben Arfa was the most completed pass in the game as Newcastle exploited Villa’s inexperienced left back Antonio Luna, who had a poor game despite making five tackles, allowing Ben Arfa to cut inside and shoot far too often.
BEN ARFA – STAR MAN
It has become a bit of a press inside joke to label Ben Arfa mercurial. It’s a polite way of saying “patchy” or “unpredictable”. Thus far this season, Ben Arfa’s form has been anything but. He looks fit, confident and is improving game on game.
On Saturday afternoon he was a constant thorn in Villa’s side and the stats reflect just how important he was to Newcastle going forward. He scored one, assisted another and should have had a penalty when pushed over in the penalty area. He had four shots, three on target, five dribbles, while winning three free kicks and only being dispossessed once. Tells you all you need to know about a superlative performance.
The workrate provided by both Cabaye and Sissoko meant Ben Arfa wasn’t burdened by too much defensive duty and he enjoys the attacking freedom. In a post-match press conference he said himself he enjoyed his position: “I play high on the pitch. It’s my job to create chances and score and give assists.”
He was direct and bullied Luna all afternoon, consistently managing to get the ball onto his left foot for a shot. If his fitness stays at the current level (In a very short time Faye Downey has made herself invaluable to Newcastle) then Ben Arfa will shortly be back in contention for a French squad that has looked devoid of any creativity under Didier Dechamps.
For the second game in a row Pardew’s substitutions were well timed and proved very effective. Firstly, Remy came off for Gouffran. The full debutant had played a key role in creating Newcastle’s opening goal but was obviously tiring in the second half. Gouffran looked sharp and offered more defensively, his alertness paid off when he pounced on Guzan’s save and buried the ball into the back of the net to send Newcastle’s traveling fans into full voice.
Almost immediately after the goal Pardew subbed off the quiet but steady Anita for the more rambunctious and physical Tiote. The Ivorian did his job well, putting himself about the pitch and not allowing Villa any time on the ball to create a chance. Unlike last season it seems Tiote will have to bide his time to see first team action, with Anita and Sissoko currently the first choice duo.
The last sub of the game saw Cabaye come off to a standing ovation from the Newcastle fans. The ovation was more for staying at the club than the performance, Cabaye wasn’t as good as fans, and Pardew, know he can be, but it’s a step in the right direction after a very unsettling start to the season. His replacement, Sammy Ameobi, had little to do, making only two passes. One of which was incomplete.
Never mind just a steady back four, Newcastle could well have their back seven sorted out for the forthcoming games unless injuries take their toll. There are some very encouraging signs on Tyneside that, despite the lack of investment over the summer, the club is moving in the right direction and Pardew did learn lessons last season.
The performance was not quite as brilliant as West Brom away at the end of 11-12 season when Newcastle ran out 3-1 winners but there’s the same potential there and the same optimism on Tyneside. Remy, Cisse and especially Ben Arfa are a front three that will cause a lot of defences problems. Get Cabaye anywhere near his best dictating the passes and threading in balls for them and teams will be scared.
Newcastle failed to get a shot on target at all in their first two matches, here they had eight. Next weekend it’s Premier League new boys Hull at St James’s Park and another possible three points.
You can follow Tom on Twitter @weeklynewsbay
Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Okore (Clark 30), Luna, El Ahmadi (Kozak 67), Westwood, Delph, Weimann (Tonev 88), Benteke, Agbonlahor
Newcastle United: Krul, Debuchy, Coloccini, Mapou, Santon, Sissoko, Anita (Tiote 74), Cabaye (Sammy Ameobi 88), Ben Arfa, Cisse, Remy (Gouffran 63)
Ref: Mike Dean
Crowd 37,554 (2,800 away fans)
If you would like to feature on The Mag, submit your article to [email protected]