Tactical Battles That Will Shape Newcastle United's Clash with Aston Villa
The mid-table clash is an important one for both sides, with the Magpies hoping to avoid their sixth straight home defeat and Villa sitting just four points away from the relegation places.
The Toon will welcome back top scorer Loic Remy from suspension, while Fabricio Coloccini and Cheick Tiote have both recovered from their respective injuries.
For the visitors, manager Paul Lambert has Andreas Weimann and Karim El Ahmadi available once more, and the pair could be recalled by the Scot.
So with both camps desperate for the points, we look at some of the tactical battles that could determine the outcome on Tyneside this weekend.
Christian Benteke vs. Fabricio Coloccini
The return of Newcastle United skipper Fabricio Coloccini cannot come quick enough for manager Alan Pardew, with his side conceding 10 goals in their last three Premier League fixtures.
The influential Argentine brings an air of calm to the Magpies’ back four, and having recovered from the knee injury that has kept him out since New Year’s Day, the 32-year-old is expected to start.
Having struggled to recreate the kind of form that saw the Belgian net 23 times in his first season in England, Benteke has received a vote of confidence from his manager, who said:
I think of late he's been doing well for us. Up until his injury at Norwich (in September) I thought he was excellent. After that he didn't come back the same but I think in the last couple of months he is starting to get back to what he was.
Hatem Ben Arfa vs. Ryan Bertrand
Both Hatem Ben Arfa and Ryan Bertrand would love to be pulling on the shirts of their respective countries at this summer’s World Cup, but the pair face an uphill battle to make their dreams come true.
Frenchman Ben Arfa has struggled to win the trust of manager Alan Pardew this season following a string of lacklustre performances in the black and white of Newcastle United.
At Aston Villa, England international Bertrand is hoping his loan move from Chelsea, where he’s made just one league appearance under Jose Mourinho, could earn him a seat on the plane to Brazil.
The 24-year-old left-back lives in hope, as he told Brendan McLoughlin in the Daily Express, while Ben Arfa must start to realise his obvious talents to appease the increasingly skeptical fans as well as his boss.
Cheick Tiote vs. Karim El Ahmadi
Two players who are set to return from injury this weekend could have a huge influence on the outcome of Sunday’s game, and both managers will be hoping their impact is positive.
In the Newcastle United camp, midfield general Cheick Tiote is expected to start, having recovered from the hamstring injury that has seen him miss the last two matches.
And for Aston Villa, a recall for Karim El Ahmadi looks a certainty should boss Paul Lambert opt to start with three across the middle as opposed to the 4-4-2 formation he’s favoured of late.
Tiote brings solidity to the Magpies, and regular patrols in front of his back four offer the Toon the kind of resolve that has been sorely lacking over the past few weeks.
Loic Remy vs. Ron Vlaar
Following his needless sending off at Norwich City last month, striker Loic Remy is finally free from suspension—and how Newcastle United could do with his goals at this moment in time.
The Magpies have failed to find the back of the net in 360 minutes of football, drawing a blank in their last four fixtures, but Remy’s return should give them extra bite up front.
The on-loan forward is the Toon’s top scorer this term, but in Ron Vlaar, he’ll find a defender determined to shine in Aston Villa’s remaining fixtures for two different reasons.
With a World Cup on the horizon, the Dutchman is hoping to nail down a place in Louis van Gaal’s squad, but not before he’s earned a new contract at Villa Park, as reported by the Birmingham Mail’s Brian Dick.
Gabriel Agbonlahor vs. Mathieu Debuchy
Should Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert opt to deploy Gabriel Agbonlahor wide on the left, then his head-to-head with Newcastle United’s Mathieu Debuchy could be a fascinating one.
Debuchy is not alone in being out of form for the Magpies and remains a big crowd favourite at St. James’ Park despite some erratic performances so far this year.
But the French international right-back could come up against Villa’s highest-ever Premier League goalscorer on Sunday and needs to up his game considerably.
The England man has provided five assists this term, and Debuchy will need to stifle that supply line if the Magpies are to stand a chance of keeping their first clean sheet this month.