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Thursday, July 2, 2020

The drastic Aston Villa changes Dean Smith could make for Newcastle

Aston Villa vs Newcastle – Here’s our expected line-up for the midweek trip to face off against Steve Bruce and Newcastle United in a game that’s being billed as must-win by supporters

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Dean Smith’s counting on Aston Villa to do what they did last season by coming on strong late in the day.

Villa’s Premier League season will be done and dusted in a little over a month’s time yet, if results continue, their Championship fate will be sealed sooner rather than later.

Smith’s side were bossed from start to finish at Villa Park against Chelsea with Frank Lampard’s men turning on the style to complete a quick-fire comeback on the hour mark.

As for the head coach, he kept with the same starting XI for the second game running but, with fixtures coming thick and fast, he must surely now look to switch things up for the long trip to Newcastle on Wednesday.

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Smith has been pleased with Villa’s defensive structure in the opening two games of Project Restart. Despite Chelsea enjoying more than 70 per cent possession on Sunday, the Londoners had just one more shot on target (five) than Villa.

More bizarrely, Villa had a higher expected goal (xG) ratio – the metric used to determine clear-cut chances – with Villa posting an xG of 1.7 to Chelsea’s 1.39.

The manner of the display in B6 on Sunday has alarmed Villa supporters, though. Striker Keinan Davis was far too isolated yet again while, more pressingly, Smith failed to get a tune out of Jack Grealish or John McGinn – two star players Villa’s season will rest on.

As for the midweek opponents, former boss Steve Bruce enjoyed thrashing Sheffield United 3-0 at St James’s Park as Newcastle rubber-stamped their survival.

Toon adopted a new 4-2-3-1 formation on their game back with Matt Richie, Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin all in support of Brazilian striker Joelinton.

In the North East, Villa must look to break lines and get in behind Newcastle. They’ve scored just once in their last four matches which is a huge concern and suggests Smith’s 4-3-3 system needs tinkering with.

Across the back, Villa have been admirable in their two showings against Sheffield United and Chelsea. Tyrone Mings was exceptional on Sunday with the back five – including Orjan Nyland – restricting Lampard’s men to pot-shots for large parts.

For the equaliser, Ezri Konsa did John McGinn’s job by marking Ross Barkley for Cesar Azpilicueta’s ball in – only to leave Christian Pulisic totally unmarked at the back post. Seconds later, intricate play allowed Azpilicueta to cross again, with the Spaniard finding Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman was given all the time in the world to turn and shoot after peeling off Conor Hourihane.

Given Smith’s comments post-match about being pleased with the defensive organisation it may just point to the same back five being deployed to play at Newcastle. Frederic Guilbert will be pushing for a start in place of Konsa but you do feel the ex-Charlton man will be kept on at right-back in an attempt to rough up Saint-Maximin.

In midfield, McGinn had arguably the quietest game he’s ever had in a Villa shirt to date. The Scot was a mere passenger against Chelsea’s powerful midfield and made just five passes all game. Hourihane and Douglas Luiz made 31 between them, in comparison. So, on Wednesday, will McGinn be dropped? Two games in four days after a six-month lay-off appears to have taken its toll on his body and, at present, he looks a shadow of his former self. Smith must be tempted to take him out of the firing line and could well look to revert the ex-Hibs man as an impact substitute.

Marvelous Nakamba could well be the man to replace McGinn on Wednesday, with Douglas Luiz pushed slightly further upfield. However, that would represent an unneeded defensive change. As for the Brazilian, he’s been immaculate in the two games back. It was his cross that helped setup Kortney Hause on Sunday and, despite Chelsea’s dominance, Douglas Luiz rarely put a foot wrong as he looks to have finally adapted to the demands of the Premier League. Last summer’s £15m buy should just keep doing what he’s doing anchoring Villa’s midfield.

Options in midfield are sparse at Villa and, to really force the issue, could dropping Grealish back in as a No.8 benefit Villa’s survival chances? Yes, he was OK against Sheffield United but, against Chelsea, you saw the best of him when Smith told him to play centrally behind Mbwana Samatta late on. Villa’s chances obviously rest on Grealish’s shoulders. He’s the main man and one of the best players in this division and Smith should look at getting him on the ball as much as possible. The 24-year-old drove at the Chelsea defence from the middle on Sunday and more of the same will be needed if Villa are to score the goals they so desperately need.

Grealish, meanwhile, has always worked well with Hourihane and the Irishman could well be kept in the starting line-up for the trip against the manager who signed him. Hourihane scored against Toon in November and has looked more like his old self in recent games. Elsewhere, though, Smith could yet turn to Danny Drinkwater who’s now back in contention.

Up front, changes are needed. Anwar El Ghazi rifled one from range against Chelsea, whipped a good ball in for McGinn and almost got ahead of Hause for the goal. El Ghazi carries a genuine goal threat but, for me, needs to be much more busier. The Dutchman, a Smith favourite, will no doubt start once more. On the opposite flank, Trezeguet could come in for a rare start and should look to take his frustration out on Newcastle in a bid to win back a starting shirt.

As for leading the line, it remains to be seen just how much the last two fixtures have taken out of Davis. He ran a lost cause on Sunday and could well be taken out of the starting XI with Samatta poised to get the nod from the get-go to show what he’s all about. Villa supporters have been crying out for Smith to force the issue and go with two front men but, given his stubbornness to date, the manager will no doubt stick with his system rather than twist. Tweaks to the line-up could come with Grealish dropping back into midfield and fresh legs wide and up front.

Our predicted Aston Villa XI vs Newcastle : Nyland; Konsa, Hause, Mings, Targett; Douglas Luiz, Grealish, Hourihane; El Ghazi, Samatta, Trezeguet.

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