[caption id="attachment_4490" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Villa Park - Pride of the Midlands"][/caption]
Aston Villa entertain Newcastle in their next Premier League fixture. Both sides will be aiming to build on a solid start to their seasons so far, and extending their unbeaten runs in the process.
Alex McLeish’s start as manager of the Midlands biggest club has been largely positive. Building a strong foundation from the back has always been a preferred trait of any of the teams the Scotsman has managed, and there is already evidence of this at Villa Park. The Centre Back pairing of Richard Dunne and James Collins is nearing the form they both showed two seasons ago; each player clearly happier at the club than they were under Gerard Houllier. The performances of new signing Shay Given has reinforced the feeling of the silent majority that Villa have one of the best EPL goalkeepers of all time on their hands.
Further up the pitch, the positives have been less conspicuous. Charles N’Zogbia has not yet fully found his feet following his summer move from Wigan, and Darren Bent’s first full season at the club has been interrupted with injury. The biggest improvement up front has been Gabby Agbonlahor, having already scored two in four games, just one goal short of his tally for the whole of last season.
The visit of the Magpies this Saturday will provide a great indicator of how Aston Villa’s season might unfold. Alan Pardew’s team have made an assured start to the campaign without fuss and find themselves in fourth place, conceding just one goal in the process. Credit must go to Pardew for keeping Newcastle competitive when promised investment in the team hasn’t yet materialised. This has resulted in United’s forward line being seen as the weakest part of their squad. Nevertheless, Pardew’s side have a good blend of endeavor and guile in their midfield, so Big ‘Ecks preferred midfield duo of Stilyan Petrov and Fabian Delph will need to keep both their energy levels and concentration at a premium.
Aston Villa: Gabriel Agbonlahor – The Jet-heeled forward has played selflessly for the team in an unfavoured position on the flanks. This doesn’t seem to have hindered his goal scoring however; averaging one in every two games so far, including his wonderful effort against Blackburn on match day two. On his day, Gabby can be unplayable.
Newcastle: Yohan Cabaye – If Shay Given goes down as great business on Aston Villa’s part, then surely the man from Tourcoing must represent similar value for money. The midfield schemer has adapted to premier league football in double-quick time, and has proven his ability to make chances both from open play and his set piece delivery. A 75% pass completion confirms that he is an important link between Newcastle’s defence and their attack.
Players to watch
Aston Villa: Fabian Delph – the young midfield player has been on Villa’s books since 2009, but hasn’t managed to establish himself in the Claret and Blue due to serious injuries. This season has been different, with McLeish impressed enough with the former Leeds Utd player to start him in every match so far. The managers’ faith has been rewarded with high-energy performances from the diminutive tyro; combining a 63% success rate in possession duels with an excellent pass completion level of 80%. He will need to be on top of his game come Saturday.
Newcastle: Gabriel Obertan – The young winger will feel he has a lot to prove since his disappointing time at Manchester Utd, but has shown already why Sir Alex took a punt in the first place. The tricky winger has excellent close control, and will look to cross from the byline, using his skill and pace to push the ball beyond Villa’s Full backs. A clear threat.
Two very evenly stacked teams will be facing each other on Saturday. Both have impressed defensively so far this season, and neither has had big success going forward. A low scoring goal draw would be the most likely result; Villa’s home support and slightly toothier front line should see out in the end. 2-1 Aston Villa.
Emile Heskey isn’t playing. Good news.