Both Aston Villa and Newcastle suffered opening day defeats and will be looking to bounce back at Villa Park on Saturday. Mark O'Haire shares his best bet...
"With neither side looking up to speed from a defensive standpoint, and both clubs boasting their full compliment of attack-minded stars, an entertaining encounter could play out at Villa Park"
Slow start costs Villa
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith said his side "were unrecognisable from what I've seen in pre-season" after watching his side concede two first-half goals in a 3-2 reverse at newly-promoted Watford. The Villains supremo added, "We lacked intensity and got done on the counter. We were better in the second half but always going to leave ourselves open."
Villa begin life without Jack Grealish, with new recruits Emi Buendi, Danny Ings and Ashley Young all starting, with Leon Bailey on the bench. Forward Ollie Watkins missed out with a bruised knee and the visitors rarely threatened before a brilliant half-volley from John McGinn against the run of play. Ings then scored from the penalty spot in injury time.
Smith is expecting to have Watkins back available this weekend and that could lead towards a system switch for Saturday's match should the Villa supremo look to partner last term's top goalscorer with new signings Ings in attack. Douglas Luiz could also be back in contention for the hosts but Morgan Sanson is a longer-term absentee.
Newcastle twice surrender an advantage
Newcastle manager Steve Bruce bemoaned the award of a "harsh" penalty as the Toon fell to a 4-2 home defeat against West Ham on the opening day. The Magpies were twice ahead through Callum Wilson and Jacob Murphy in an absorbing and entertaining clash, leading 2-1 at the interval before the Hammers fought back impressively in the second half.
Bruce said, "The big turning point was the penalty. It looked harsh and those are big moments in the game. We have to admit we did not defend well enough. We got done on the counter while chasing the game, when we leave ourselves exposed it becomes very difficult for us. We have to tighten up and be better."
Despite the loss, there were positives for Newcastle supporters with Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin again playing key roles in forward positions, whilst the returning Joe Willock was in the stands after completing a move from Arsenal. Meanwhile, Freddie Woodman will continue between the sticks with first-choice pair Karl Darlow and Martin Dubravka injured.
Aston Villa boast a reasonable recent record against Newcastle, with the hosts' unbeaten in six head-to-heads in since a defeat back in 2015 (W2-D4-L0). The Villans have proven a particularly tough nut to crack at Villa Park, silencing the Toon in each of their past four trips to the Second City club (W0-D2-L2), failing to score in 377 top-flight minutes here.
Aston Villa 1.875/6 are looking to table a top-half finish this term but Dean Smith will demand a significant improvement from his troops following their opening day reverse. The hosts posted W4-D3-L2 when welcoming bottom-half opposition in 2020/21, recording five shutouts, including a cushy 2-0 success over Saturday's guests here in January.
Newcastle 4.507/2 finished last season with a flourish, tabling W5-D5-L3 in their final 13 fixtures, to conclude the campaign 17 points above the drop-zone. The form and fitness of Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin and Joe Willock was integral to the upturn and Steve Bruce will be looking forward to fielding the threatening trio again this weekend.
Making major conclusions from the first matchday of any season is always perilous, although it's difficult not to be swayed by the high goals tally in the Premier League. The 10 openers averaged 3.40 goals per-game with Aston Villa and Newcastle's contests arguably the pick of the bunch with the two matches totalling 11 goals.
With neither side looking up to speed from a defensive standpoint, and both clubs boasting their full compliment of attack-minded stars, an entertaining encounter could play out at Villa Park this weekend. Both Teams To Score has been chalked up at 1.794/5 and should give us a good run for our money.
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