Aston Villa to test Newcastle cohesion
After a tough opening fixture against the Premier League's defending champions, Manchester City, Newcastle head to Villa Park on Saturday to face Aston Villa for the second match of the season.
This game will be a far better indicator of whether Newcastle and all of their new signings have yet managed to forge a fluent team, and it will also be a pointer as to whether manager Alan Pardew is serious in his promise of ditching the direct approach and finally bringing entertainment to the field of play.
Their opponents, Aston Villa, were among the preseason favourites for relegation with the bookmakers. Supporters were disillusioned with their signings -- Joe Cole, Philippe Senderos and Kieran Richardson were among those brought in, leading to one Twitter user to comment that "Aston Villa are building a great side for the 2004/05 season."
Villa owner Randy Lerner has clearly been looking to cut costs while attempting to sell the club leading to uncertainty for all involved, but they put it all behind them in their opening game as they beat Stoke, fancied by some to be this season's "dark horses," at the Britannia Stadium.
Then again, Villa started last season superbly too, beating Arsenal at the Emirates before going on a three-game losing streak, including a 2-1 Newcastle win at Villa Park in the fourth game.
As ever, Newcastle have one of the longest injury lists in the Premier League with Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Cheick Tiote, Davide Santon and Papiss Cisse all unavailable for selection. They are hopeful that Siem de Jong will be fit enough to make his debut.
Villa's only absentee is long-term injury victim Christian Benteke, who has actually been linked with a move to Tyneside throughout the summer transfer window.
Should De Jong be ready in time, it will be interesting to see how Pardew reshuffles the team to accommodate him. Jack Colback stood out above Vurnon Anita on Sunday, so I suspect that one Dutchman will make way for another, with De Jong filling the advanced midfield/No. 10 position with Moussa Sissoko dropping deeper into the midfield.
Argentinian loanee Facundo Ferreyra scored two for Newcastle's U21 side this week, so he could also find himself involved from the bench.
For Newcastle supporters, a trip down to Villa did not carry much significance, historically, but when Newcastle were relegated at Villa Park in May 2009 that all changed.
For some reason Villa supporters were absolutely delighted by Newcastle's demise, and some celebrated like they'd won a trophy. This left a bad taste in the mouths of many a Newcastle fan, so the ante has been upped in the fixture ever since.
After bouncing right back into the top division, Newcastle thrashed Villa 6-0 in their first home game and have gone on to beat them in five of the eight games they've played, losing only once -- perhaps that is why the Villans were so glad the Magpies went down?