Match Report: Aston Villa v Newcastle – 14/09/13 Result 1 - 2

The Dolphin's Brain By The Dolphin's Brain, 15th Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/44nobd4e/
Posted in Wikinut>News>Sport

I missed the first Villa home game of the season due to holiday commitments. Having been buoyed by the Arsenal result at the Emirates on the opening day of the season and encouraged by the displays against Chelsea away and Liverpool at home, I was looking forward to entertaining the Magpies. I should have known better, of course; this is football we are talking about after all!

Setting The Scene

Newcastle finished fifth in the Premier League; no, not last season but the one before. At the end of the 2012/13 campaign, they managed to avoid relegation by two places and five points; Villa finished one place above them on goal difference. As well as other absences due to injury throughout the season, Hatem Ben Arfa missed 19 league matches in 12/13 and Yohan Cabaye 12, and it is arguable that this contributed significantly to their dip in form.

Certainly, upon arriving at Villa Park and noting the visitors’ team sheet, I was struck by two things; there were no English players in their starting line-up but, arguably, the team looked the stronger for it and nearer to what I imagined their full-strength XI to be. Indeed, in his post-match interview with the BBC, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew emphasised that very point.

Pardew’s counterpart at Villa, Paul Lambert made seven signings in the summer transfer window, but only two began the match, Okore at centre back and Luna at left-back. It is commonly accepted that Lambert’s ‘best bit of business’ in the transfer window was keeping hold of top scorer Benteke. Going on this performance, Lambert might have to make some changes to his starting line-up if he is to see consistent improvement on last season.

The Main Action

In the final analysis, it was Ben Arfa and not Benteke who had the greatest influence on the outcome. Newcastle took control of the game from the outset and relinquished it rarely during the entire 90 minutes. Ben Arfa was the constant outlet on Newcastle’s right wing and despite his prowess with his left foot the Villa defence allowed him to come inside to use it with regularity. If he once took the outside route to cross with his right foot then it occurred when my attention was elsewhere.

Newcastle dominated the first forty five minutes. Their back line was rarely troubled, the midfield looked comfortable and unhurried in possession and the front players, Remy in particular, were lively and inventive. But it was Ben Arfa who was the star performer, knitting together Newcastle’s attacking play from his position on the right.

Newcastle’s first goal was that clichéd inevitability, the one that ‘had been coming’! Ironically, however, it was a rarer thrust down the left by Remy that, after a fortuitous ricochet off Lowton, led to a low cross that was touched on by Cissé and finished from short distance by, yes, Ben Arfa with his left foot. Newcastle remained in control of the first half and the home fans’ displeasure was clearly evident when the half-time whistle went. Villa did not muster a decent opportunity in the whole half, despite a couple of half-chances.

Lambert’s men certainly improved after the break and Agbonlahor missed a relatively straightforward opportunity from 6 yards out following a speedy move down Villa’s right culminating in an excellent cross from Weimann. This period of pressure led to Benteke equalising for Villa with a powerful header from a right-side corner.

At this point, it looked as if Villa might retain control of the game and go on to win it, but it was Newcastle who reacted the better and having scored the first, Ben Arfa made the winner for Gouffran, who profited from Guzan deflecting the ball into his path leaving the Newcastle substitute with a straightforward finish. The Villa defence could not complain about a lack of forewarning; Ben Arfa’s shot that led to the goal resulted from him picking the ball up on the right, cutting inside and unleashing a goal-bound effort with his left foot. He had been doing that all match and yet he was still allowed the freedom to repeat it at this late stage in the match with terminal consequences for Villa’s hopes of a first home league win of the season.

Broader Analysis

Villa’s left back, Luna, may well be having visions of Ben Arfa still, but this, the 26th league game on the trot without a clean sheet, was not the fault of the back five alone. There is a greater malaise at the heart of this Villa team and it is not a new phenomenon.

Defending, as the saying goes, starts at the front, and whilst Agbonlahor did more than his usual share of ball-chasing during the game, Benteke and Weimann were unusually lethargic without the ball. The midfield of Delph, El Ahmadi and Westwood were equally ineffectual in regaining possession and stopping the Magpies from exerting control. Delph did start brightly and showed some good touches going forward, but his effectiveness as a defensive force reduced considerably following his booking after approximately 30 minutes for a foul on Ben Arfa, who had popped up momentarily on Newcastle’s left. This left the Villa defence with little or no protection and Ben Arfa, in particular, was able to exploit this deficiency ruthlessly.

Of equal concern was a seeming lack of urgency across the pitch from the 14 players used by the Villa manager, although to be fair to Tonev, he had no time to impress, coming on as he did after 88 minutes. Lambert’s post-match interview on the club's web site surprised me somewhat as he said he couldn’t fault the team’s effort. Whether this is Lambert putting a positive spin on matters for the benefit of the media is difficult to tell, but certainly I do not believe the fans would agree with him on that point. Managers, players and professional pundits are often swift to dismiss the views of fans as ignorant and being based on no proper understanding of the game at this level. On some levels, of course, this view can be forgiven, but players cannot hide from fans in respect of the effort put into a game. Fans know when players are not quite ‘at it’, not least because of having witnessed games when the players most certainly ARE giving full effort.

Lambert rightly identified a poor first-half performance from his Villa team as being instrumental in the defeat. The slightly improved performance after the break was short-lived and while Villa had enough chances to have come away with a draw it would have been harsh on the visitors who were well worth their victory.

Overall, the Villa lacked the steel to compete in midfield and to make life difficult for their opponents. In addition, they lacked the quality and creativity required at this level to open up the visitors’ defence and create sufficient chances. Such a combination does not bode well and these deficiencies need to be addressed if Villa are not to find themselves in an all too familiar bottom-of-the-table scrap once again.

Newcastle, in contrast, seemed back to their 2011/12 form and, on this showing, will prove a handful for anyone in the division. Keeping Cabaye and, in particular, Ben Arfa fit will be a priority. Provided they can do this, and without the distraction of European football, Newcastle could well finish well up into the top half of the table come next May.

© The Dolphin’s Brain 2013

Tags

Aston Villa, Ben Arfa, Benteke, Cabaye, Lambert, Newcastle United, Pardew, Premier League, Remy, Villa

Meet the author

author avatar The Dolphin's Brain
I am a mixed bag of lawyer, vegan, environmentalist and sports nut and my writing is likely to be passionate, of-the-moment articles on a wide variety of topics. I also write the occasional poem!

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