Saturday's solitary Premier League showdown sees Aston Villa entertain Newcastle. Mark O'Haire shares his betting verdict on the Villa Park encounter...
"Aston Villa 1.528/15 sat third for Expected Points (xP) per-game in the Premier League this season, highlighting their impressive progress since lockdown"
Aston Villa v Newcastle
Saturday January 23, 20:00
Aston Villa frustrated by midweek defeat
Covid-hit Aston Villa battled in vain at The Etihad on Wednesday night as Man City eventually broke the visitors' resistance with two goals in the final 10 minutes of their rearranged Premier League game. On a soaking-wet night in Manchester, Villa's first-team defended for their lives as they returned to action for the first time since New Year's Day.
Dean Smith's side showed no after-effects of their 19-day hiatus and produced a dogged defensive display. Villa held out until the 79th minute, when Rodri controversially stole the ball off Tyrone Mings before feeding Bernardo, with Smith sent off for his protests in the aftermath. A harsh handball penalty against Matty Cash settled matters late on.
Speaking post-match, Smith said: "It was a farcical decision (to allow the first goal). I've not seen a goal like that given. It needs to be looked at. For the second goal, a header from a yard out that has hit his arm. That's not handball. Ridiculous. It was a heroic performance in terms of energy and commitment but we didn't show enough quality against a very good team."
Newcastle fail to fire, again
Newcastle fell to a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal on Monday evening, extending the Magpies' winless streak to nine games across all competitions, and intensifying the pressure on beleaguered boss Steve Bruce. The Toon made eight changes to their starting XI, switching system to a more attack-minded approach but conjured up just four attempts at goal.
Prior to The Emirates encounter, Bruce said the "gloves would come off" as Newcastle fielded a 4-4-2 with attacking players Joelinton, Miguel Almiron, Andy Carroll and Callum Wilson all starting. The first half did show promise and was a vast improvement on their previous display at Sheffield United but after the break, familiar failings were exposed once more.
Newcastle struggled to create opportunities as Joelinton and Wilson had very quiet games, whilst only a number of fine saves from Karl Darlow prevented a wider margin of defeat. Bruce remained bullish about his position post-match and suggested he saw promising signs in the performance in the capital, instead bemoaning the lack of confidence in his side.
Aston Villa haven't often enjoyed Premier League meetings with Newcastle, taking top honours only once in their last 12 head-to-heads at this level (W1-D6-L5). However, the Villans are unbeaten in their most recent four match-ups (W1-D3-L0), winning this fixture 2-0 last season. The hosts have actually silenced the Magpies in each of their past three here.
Prior to Wednesday night, Aston Villa 1.528/15 sat third for Expected Points (xP) per-game in the Premier League this season, highlighting their impressive progress since lockdown. Dean Smith's side also lead the way in terms of Expected Goals (xG) generated, non-penalty xG (npxG), plus non-penalty big chances created, as well as shots attempted per-game.
Newcastle 7.006/1 head to the Second City without a win in seven (W0-D2-L5) league outings, losing three on the spin. The Toon have been beaten in each of their past six road trips across all competitions and have scored just once in their last seven games. Meanwhile, no top-tier team fires in fewer shots from inside the penalty box than Steve Bruce's boys.
Aston Villa and Newcastle have produced contrasting goal trends this term. Villa have delivered a 3.71 goals per-game average in their seven home outings, five of which crossed the Over 2.5 Goals 1.728/11 barrier. Overall, the Villans have seen a minimum of three goals in 10/16 (62%) of their Premier League matches in 2020/21 - the second-highest return.
Newcastle, however, have followed suit in only eight (44%) of 18 matches with the Toon's road trips particularly dry. The Magpies have seen just two of nine away days return profit for Over 2.5 Goals punters this season, whilst the visitors have failed to score themselves in 12 (43%) of 28 road trips under Steve Bruce's stewardship in the Premier League.
Considering the direction of travel for both of these clubs coming into the contest, I'm happy to side with an Aston Villa victory alongside Under 4.5 Goals for a 1.758/11 shot via the Same Game Multi. All bar one of the hosts' triumphs this term have featured fewer than five goals with seven of Newcastle's nine losses following suit.
Mark's 2020/21 Profit/Loss
Staked: 84.00 pts
Returned: 87.03 pts
P/L: +3.03 pts