Aston Villa – Newcastle: Dean Smith’s side — with its manager watching on from the stands — cruised to an incredibly comfortable 2-0 victory over the Magpies on Saturday, climbing three places in the Premier League table up to 8th (with a game or two in hand on most sides around them) in the process.
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Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traore got the goals for Aston Villa, who were never tested and always in complete control of proceedings at Villa Park. The defeat sees Newcastle fall to 16th in the table, now just two places and seven points clear of 18th-place Fulham. Newcastle haven’t won a Premier League game since Dec. 12 (0W-2D-6L).
3 things we learned: Aston Villa – Newcastle
1. Aston Villa a top-half side: Villa have been, and remain, one of the Premier League’s darling sides in the eyes of expected goals (xG) this season, ranking third in xG behind Liverpool and Manchester City — perhaps you’ve heard of them? — as Dean Smith’s side plays some highly enjoyable, aesthetically pleasing stuff regardless who they’re up against. They’re bottom-half in terms of expected goals against (xGA), but just barely and that point has held true through a thoroughly difficult period featuring successive games against Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City.
2. No positives for Newcastle: Newcastle began the season as a side capable of both preventing and creating scoring chances. By early November, they were no longer creating much for themselves but at least they were still defending quite well more often than not. Fast-forward to late January, and Steve Bruce can’t say his side does either particularly well, or with much effort. If Mike Ashley is paying attention and willing to pay Bruce to no longer manage his football club, it might be time for a change. Oh, hey, would you look at that — as of Saturday, Rafa Benitez is available for employment again…
3. Perhaps a silver lining, though: Allan Saint-Maximin returned for Newcastle, entering Saturday’s game as a 71st-minute substitute, after missing Newcastle’s last nine PL games and 11 in all competitions due to the after-effects of COVID-19. He’ll require a bit of time to get back to full fitness and sharpness after not featuring since Nov. 21, but the hope is this: Things very quickly went south after he went down — perhaps his mere presence will lift the squad and save a season that’s very quickly heading for a relegation scare.
Newcastle’s defense wasted precious little time in executing its own demise, as Fabian Schar’s disastrously botched clearance afforded Watkins an altogether unnecessary and easily avoidable scoring chance in the 13th minute.
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Watkins found the back of the net again in the 33rd minute after Jack Grealish played Villa’s club-record signing in behind Newcastle defense for an expertly taken chance, but Grealish held onto the ball a beat too long and Watkins had wandered offside by the time the pass was made.
Bertrand Troare eventually gave Aston Villa the two-goal lead they so comfortably deserved, and he did it in style. Grealish’s cross arrived near the penalty spot with Ezri Konsa patiently waiting, only for Traore to come into the picture like a blur and stroke a deft, right-footed finish past Karl Darlow.