Steve Bruce accepts that Newcastle United need to be stronger defensively if they are to have any chance of claiming a positive result against Aston Villa.
After a strong end to the previous season, the Magpies kicked off their 2021-22 Premier League campaign with a disappointing 4-2 loss to West Ham last weekend.
United twice led but were overwhelmed by West Ham’s pace and power in the final third, which Bruce wants his side improve on at Villa Park.
“We must defend better, not just the back three,” he said. “We know we’re a threat going forward. If we defend well, we’ve got a chance.”
United are boosted by the inclusion of Joe Willock in their squad this weekend, the ex-Arsenal midfielder having starred on loan at St James’ Park in the second half of 2020-21.
“I would’ve liked him to have a few more minutes in pre-season but he’s a naturally fit young man,” Bruce said. “He improved us immensely with his goals from midfield and let’s hope he can carry that on tomorrow.”
Villa will hope to call upon new signings Emiliano Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings, but Dean Smith has confirmed Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traore are both out injured.
The Villans lost 3-2 to newly promoted Watford in their opening game, though Smith will not let that scoreline alter his team selection too heavily against Newcastle.
“The Watford game doesn’t change the thinking,” he said. “We’ve obviously had a stop-start pre-season, so a lot of the players haven’t got the match minutes we’ve needed.
“We feel we’ve got a really good squad here. We’ve just got to concentrate now on getting that win in front of our home fans against Newcastle.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Aston Villa – Danny Ings
One of the positives for Villa from their loss to Watford was Ings getting off the mark with a debut goal from the penalty spot following his arrival from Southampton. However, Ings has been on the losing side in a Premier League-high 10 games in which he has found the net, a negative statistic Villa fans will hope he does not add to too often.
Newcastle United – Joe Willock
United spent big to bring Willock to the club – and no surprise given the way he ended the previous campaign with a goal in each of his last seven Premier League matches. He could become just the fourth different player to net in eight in a row after Ruud van Nistelrooy (twice), Jamie Vardy (twice) and Daniel Sturridge.
KEY OPTS FACTS
– Villa are unbeaten in their last six Premier League matches against Newcastle (W2 D4) since losing 1-0 back in February 2015. Villa have not gone seven without defeat in the top flight against Newcastle since winning seven in a row between 1955 and 1958.
– Newcastle have not scored a single goal in any of their last four Premier League visits to Aston Villa (D2 L2). Their run of minutes without a top-flight goal at Villa Park stands at 377, since a Yoan Gouffran strike in a 2-1 win in September 2013.
– The Villans won their final home game of the 2020-21 season – they last won consecutive home league games in January, with the second victory in that run coming against Newcastle.
– Smith’s side have scored exactly twice in each of their last four Premier League games, netting with both of their shots on target in their opening day defeat at Watford. The Villans last scored more than once in five consecutive top-flight games in January 2008.
– Newcastle ended last season with consecutive away Premier League wins, beating Leicester City and Fulham. They have not won three in a row on the road in the top flight since December 2001, beating Ipswich Town, Arsenal and Leeds United under Sir Bobby Robson.