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Opponent Spotlight: What can Aston Villa expect from Newcastle United on Saturday?

We caught up with Newcastle United fan and podcaster, Jack Stanley, from the Toon Under Podcast to find out more about Aston Villa’s opponents. Who should we be wary of?

Newcastle United v Villarreal CF - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Newcastle have been relatively busy during the summer transfer window, with the likes of Sandro Tonali joining from AC Milan, Harvey Barnes from Leicester City, and now Tino Livramento from Southampton - do you think there will be more signings on the way?

Jack Stanley: The Newcastle hierarchy and management team have consistently talked about the restrictions imposed by Financial Fair Play. However, they’ve now spent almost $400 million since the takeover while recouping barely anything in players sales, so they are operating very close to the edge of what they are able to do while staying FFP compliant. Allan Saint-Maximin had to be sold to fund some of the signings this summer.

Livramento is an amazing signing for the future, but he’s also one for the present, either as backup/competition for Trippier or as a left-back option. Most fans would argue that we still need a specialist left-back and a young, quick, ball playing right-sided centre-back as competition/cover for Fabian Schar. I don’t think we’ll get a left-back now Livramento is coming in unless there is an attractive loan option later in the window.

It would not be ideal to go into a campaign on four fronts being one defensive injury or suspension away from starting Jamal Lascelles, who is a limited footballer despite his fantastic character and leadership. So with that in mind I do think we’ll buy a centre-back for a significant fee and that’ll be it this summer for permanent transfers

Last season’s journey to securing Champions League football for the 2023/2024 season was certainly a memorable one - how do you think Eddie Howe’s side will cope with the added fixtures this season?

JS: The answer to this question will determine whether this season is viewed as a success or not. The squad was paper thin in terms of quality last season, and we got fairly lucky with injuries on the whole. It really showed when we missed key players.

The midfield and attacking positions have been bolstered by new signings, but also by the emergence in pre-season of young local lads, Elliott Anderson (20) and Lewis Miley (17), as part of the first-team squad. Cliché alert, but Anthony Gordon will also be like a new signing having taken some time to get up to speed after his arrival in January.

As explained above, the defence still looks weak, but that should be addressed in the coming weeks. The six additional Champions League games will impact us this season. There will be a big physical and mental effort associated with competing in Europe’s premier competition, particularly if we keep playing the intense, high-octane football that brought us success last season. It’s exhilarating and could also be exhausting, but our direct rivals (Villa included) will all have Europe to contend with as well.

I think Eddie Howe will have a clear plan to look after his players and keep them in peak physical condition, and with the addition of another defender, the squad will look in good shape for the gruelling campaign to come.

Newcastle United v Leicester City - Premier League
Newcastle United will be making their return to the Champions League for the first time since the 2002/2003 season.
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Newcastle will surely be in the thick of things again this season in terms of finishing in the top four again, how confident are you ahead of the season?

JS: We ended up on 71 points last season, which was eventually good enough for 4th (thank you to Aston Villa for stopping Liverpool’s late season charge with a massive draw at Anfield). We had a remarkable season in terms of defeats, only losing five league games, and we had the joint best defence in the league.

However, we also left a lot of points behind by drawing games we should have won against weaker opposition, so we could have ended up higher. Last season was a lot more successful in terms of points than we predicted at the start and the club’s progress has been turbo-charged. That raises expectations ahead of this season, where many fans will be hoping for Champions League qualification as a minimum again.

I’m confident we will get at least 65 points, which would hopefully secure a top 6 place and Europa League football as a minimum. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see us better last season’s tally and even push for 2nd or 3rd if we have good fortune with injuries again. A lot will depend on how other clubs around us perform, and I think the top half of the Premier League is shaping up to be as competitive as it has ever been. Most important for me is to see consistent and steady progress across all areas of the club regardless of final league position. This is a long-term project and we’re on the right track.

Aston Villa and Newcastle have already played one another this pre-season, with both sides settling for a 3-3 draw in Philadelphia - aside from that match, how have Eddie Howe’s side looked heading into the new season?

JS: It’s always hard to read too much into results or even performances in pre-season, where the primary focus is getting minutes into legs. That game against Villa was interesting because Howe experimented with a new formation and system, partly I think to not give away any hints about possible team selection or tactics in the opening league game. Howe will have learned a lot more in the painful 3-0 defeat at Villa Park back in April.

Our pre-season has been a bit of a mixed bag as it often is, plenty of goals conceded and plenty scored. Results overall have been strong with five wins and two draws. Being unbeaten across the three games against Premier League opposition is nice, but ultimately doesn’t mean a lot. The main story of pre-season has been the form of Elliott Anderson, who has scored 4 goals and got 4 assists.

The squad is looking good ahead of the season, with only Joe Willock of last season’s starters missing out on pre-season so far due to injury, but ultimately all that matters is that opening league game when the real football is back.

Aston Villa v Newcastle United: Premier League Summer Series Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Which eleven players do you think Howe will select on Saturday and do you think we could see any change to the style of play compared to last season?

JS: All the indications are that Newcastle will almost certainly continue with the high-pressing, intense-running 4-3-3 system that served us so well last season. Howe is a smart manager, so there will be some tactical flexibility in there, but the current system works so will likely be retained. The team will look something like this:

Pope; Trippier, Schar, Botman, Burn; Anderson, Bruno Guimaraes, Joelinton; Almiron, Isak, Gordon

The really exciting thing is the bench which could include the likes of Livramento, Tonali, Willock, Longstaff, Barnes, Murphy and Wilson.

The only real questions in the team I think are whether Anderson starts after his pre-season exploits (or whether Tonali makes his debut), who plays on the left wing between Gordon and Barnes, and whether Isak or Wilson start up front. I know Harvey Barnes has a good goalscoring record against Villa, and he scored two against Villareal in our last pre-season game, but I think he’s likely to start on the bench as Howe often does with new signings.

We’re only a couple of days away from the start of yet another Premier League season - what is your score prediction for Saturday’s match at St. James’ Park?

JS: Villa is a tough start for us, especially with the 3-0 from April fresh in our minds. That was the only time we were comprehensively outplayed, outfought and outrun all season. Emery is one of the best managers in the league and it will be a fascinating tactical battle.

Diaby running at Dan Burn is giving most Newcastle fans nightmares this week. St James’ Park is never an easy place for opposition to come, though. The stadium will be rocking on Saturday evening and I can see an entertaining score draw.

Prediction: 2-2.