With a difficult stretch of fixtures finally coming to a close, there is a small glimmer of hope around Aston Villa Football Club. Even though the most winnable match (Watford) ended up as a loss, there are games on the horizon that offer a real chance of points.
It may already be too late for Rémi Garde's men though. Just six points through 16 matches has practically doomed the club to relegation. Leicester City had 10 points at Christmas last year, and look at them now though. With a win on Saturday, Villa could get to nine.
Looking at this fixture a few weeks back, it looked like a great chance for the Villans to take the points. However, Newcastle have won consecutive matches, downing Liverpool and Tottenham in impressive fashion. The Magpies are sixth in the Premier League form table, while Villa are 19th.
Adama Traoré has played just 94 minutes of football in the league since joining from Barcelona, and that's something that needs to change. While his pace is troubling for defenders who've been running around for an hour or so, he could better serve the team by starting the match on the pitch. Paul Dummett is Newcastle's left back, and he will definitely have his hands full if tasked with facing a player like Adama from the start.
Jordan Ayew absolutely must start at striker, since we know there's no chance of seeing Libor Kozák. Gabby Agbonlahor probably isn't in the equation after being caught partying with Arsenal players following last week's loss. Rudy Gestede simply isn't offering any value to the team at the moment.
Deciding who to go with on the left wing isn't as easy. Scott Sinclair hasn't been particularly effective. Jack Grealish is certainly an option, and Garde may opt to try out Charles N'Zogbia there again. Maybe even Carles Gil could be used over here, if Adama occupies the spot on the opposite flank.
In midfield, Jordan Veretout is turning into one of the most dependable players in the team. His ability to retain possession as well as drive forward from deep positions is useful, and it's clear he's become much more comfortable in the side. Carlos Sánchez hasn't been as good lately, and neither has Idrissa Gana. Both face the risk of being dropped from the starting 11. It's not really possible to replace both of the underperforming midfielders though, with only Ashley Westwood a realistic option to come into the team in that area.
Questions remain regarding the fitness of Micah Richards. Jores Okore has been a welcome return to the backline, but we're still stuck with Joleon Lescott. And either Leandro Bacuna or Kieran Richardson at left back. Alan Hutton continues to be reliable yet unspectacular on the right side of defence. If Brad Guzan could go back to being the player he was in 2013 and '14, that would help as well.
The whole unit will be tasked with stopping players like Georginio Wijnaldum and Ayoze Pérez, who have 11 goals between them. Newcastle's counter attack has worked wonders as of late, relying on the overall pace of their squad. Players like Moussa Sissoko are great at turning defence into attack after winning the ball, and if Villa can't stay organised this presents a huge problem.
Toon 'keeper Rob Elliot earned man of the match honours in the win over Spurs, making seven saves. If he continues that form, it will be tough for Villa's already struggling attack. Hopefully he regresses to the mean.
Newcastle United (4-4-1-1):
Rob Elliot; Daryl Janmaat, Chancel Mbemba, Fabricio Coloccini, Paul Dummett; Moussa Sissoko, Jack Colback, Vurnon Anita, Georginio Wijnaldum; Siem de Jong; Ayoze Pérez.
Aston Villa (4-3-3):
Brad Guzan; Alan Hutton, Jores Okore, Joleon Lescott, Kieran Richarson; Ashley Westwood, Jordan Veretout, Idrissa Gana Gueye; Adama Traoré, Jordan Ayew, Jack Grealish.
Who would you trust in this crucial match if you were Rémi Garde? Let us know in the comments!
Not a member? Join 7500 to Holte and start commenting | Follow @7500toHolte on Twitter