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Aston Villa vs. Newcastle: The real season begins

Aston Villa's start to the season has given plenty of reason for confidence, but the true test of the season will be in how they measure up against opposition outside of the elite tier.

Ian Walton

It's easy to get a bit carried away with Villa's form through their first three games. Given the gauntlet they had to endure, it's perfectly reasonable; three points and three solid performances from Villa's opening three games is nothing to sniff at considering the quality of the opposition. Those three points will be helpful come the end of the season, especially considering that Villa could have come out of the other side without a single point and still made a decent account of themselves. But in the longer term, how Villa get along against the top of the league is somewhat irrelevant; how they manage against the rest of the league is significantly more important.

Newcastle is in many ways a team against which Villa ought to be measuring themselves. A club of somewhat similar stature, the Toon's fall from grace predated Villa's, and while the depth was lower the rebound was significantly higher, with Newcastle pushing hard for the Champions League as few as two seasons ago. Last season wasn't so kind, and at several points it appeared as though one of Villa or the Magpies would be headed to the Championship. As it happened, both sides managed to pull themselves together in enough time to avoid the drop. But their respective approaches to doing so were wildly divergent, and though Villa's tact has earned the plaudits to this point,  a result for Newcastle could quite easily reshape the narrative surrounding these two sides.

Despite Villa's more encouraging start to the season, it's Newcastle that enters the game ahead in the table. Though they were stomped 4-0 in the opening week against Manchester City, the Toon have responded well, earning a drab but functional 0-0 draw against West Ham in the season's second week and picking up a narrow 1-0 victory over Fulham before the international break. Newcastle hasn't looked especially good at any point this season, but they have managed results over their closest opposition, and that's a vitally important task.

Most clubs will pull out a shock result at some point, or go on a run that leads to nowhere but seems quite promising in the moment. But for the most part, point totals are built upon the way teams perform against the middle and bottom of the table. And in Villa's case we've yet to see how that kind of thing is going to play out. Against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, Paul Lambert was quite content to stay deep and hit the opposition on the break, often with positive results. But against a side such as Newcastle, who aren't likely to play so aggressively, will this approach bear fruit? It is at this point the most significant question of the season. Villa's show that they're smart enough and physically gifted enough to hang with the big boys with a specific plan of action; the question is how well they can adapt to a team that views them as an equivalent level of competition.

A disappointing result for Villa in this game would be a letdown, given their start, but it wouldn't be the end of the world by any stretch. But if they can manage to live up to the standard they've set in their first three games, we'll just all have to keep on getting carried away. This game, specifically, isn't a litmus test. But how Villa manage to fare against competition of Newcastle's level very much is.