The summer transfer window is finally over and Aston Villa will be far happier with their work than their northern opponents in this encounter. While Newcastle United didn’t spend a penny to acquire Loic Remy on loan, Villa secured seven new signings that will no doubt create a sense of squad competition and depth.
While most Villa fans were calling out for a creative midfielder, Paul Lambert decided to spend big on a striker on deadline day for the second season in a row and brought in 6’4” Czech international Libor Kozak from SS Lazio.
Despite a tumultuous maiden campaign as Villa manager, Paul Lambert has now moulded his own squad and can be suitably judged on how we do this season, with many tipping the Villa as a Premier League surprise package. I’m almost certain that new boy Kozak has been signed as the eventual replacement to Christian Benteke, who is destined for big things if he continues his stunning 2013 form into and beyond the World Cup – and it certainly made sense to bring him in now and let him have 12 months to settle into the club and country before taking over the goal-scoring burden and leading the line.
Newcastle have had a far from impressive start to the season, having scored just one goal in their opening three fixtures and so maybe, just maybe, the home side will obtain their first clean sheet in the Premier League for almost nine months. The defensive partnership of Ron Vlaar and Jores Okore seems to be very complimentary of each other’s abilities – and supported either side by Matthew Lowton and Antonio Luna it seems like a more than capable unit of ending the season with a far better goals against column than in the previous season. With Nathan Baker’s return to fitness, and Ciaran Clark’s impressive early season form though neither should be ruled out of contention.
Fabian Delph will be a key player for the home side, as he has been since the turn of 2013 and the revival of Villa. He was written off a long time ago by many but is finally consistently showing the kind of form that would warrant his estimated £8m transfer fee. Being combative has previously been his downfall, making rash and ill-timed challenges all too often but it seems that over the past few months he has been able to make better instant judgements as to what type of challenge is needed. This has led to him playing regularly with fellow England hopeful Ashley Westwood and tireless Moroccan Karim El Ahmadi and forming a very capable high-tempo midfield, albeit with Delph and El Ahmadi doing most of the pressurising when high up the pitch.
And then there’s the beast. Christian Benteskey (Benteke + Heskey, geddit?) as he was hilariously called toward the start of his claret and blue career has shocked everyone but Lambert with his continuous progression and goal threat, while his stunning vision and physicality means that he poses much more danger than your average striker. He’s a dead cert to start barring any overnight health change.
Benteke’s supporting wide forwards have had contrasting starts to the season though and despite him being both a fan and manager favourite, Andi Weimann’s starting place is at risk if he doesn’t start taking some of the chances presented to him – though getting a stunning 20-yarder in the cup against Rotherham will have been a nice confidence boost for the Austrian and he will hopefully push on from here to recreate his 2012/13 form.
Gabby Agbonlahor is another Englishman that has been in devastating form over the past few months and despite his most recent England snub, a call back to the national team surely can’t be far away if he continues to produce such performances. So, that’s the team that I think will start, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Karim El Ahmadi or Andi Weimann drop out in place of Aleksandar Tonev for a bit more creativity and flair.
Newcastle aren’t a bad side, but they aren’t in a great spell of form and that coupled with our impressive beginning - despite amassing the same amount of points as Newcastle, the manner in which they came were very different – should see us once more upset the Geordie faithful and send them back to the North East empty handed. I’m even going for a clean sheet…