Newcastle United began the 2021/22 campaign with an opening weekend thriller, but travel to Aston Villa for their first away day of the season without any points.
Five minutes into the new season and Newcastle were leading Europa League qualifiers West Ham thanks to some genuine skill and guile, with their freshly crowned number nine celebrating in front of a rapturous St James’ Park. It was almost too good to be true, and so it proved to be.
The Magpies twice conceded a lead, eventually recording a deflating and draining 4-2 defeat. With Villa also losing, this clash represents a chance at redemption for both – here’s how Steve Bruce may try to down his former employers…
Freddie Woodman (GK) – Despite saving a penalty, the Newcastle academy product saw four goals zip past him on his Premier League debut. Nevertheless, injuries to Newcastle’s first and second choice goalkeeping options leaves little choice between the sticks.
Emil Krafth (CB) – The flexible Sweden international filled in where necessary during the European Championships and will fulfil a similar defensive stop-gap role in a Newcastle squad so cruelly and consistently plagued by injury.
Federico Fernandez (CB) – The unflinching Argentinian, now embarking upon his fourth season in Tyneside, is the senior figure at the heart of defence with club captain Jamaal Lascelles a doubt.
Ciaran Clark (CB) – Providing a natural left-footed option on the left hand side of Newcastle’s back-three, Clark is a staple of Newcastle’s defensive rearguard.
Jacob Murphy (RWB) – Already halfway to his goal tally of the previous campaign one game in, Murphy primarily offers pace and a willingness to get forward rather than a sustained scoring threat.
Isaac Hayden (CM) – Tasked with supporting Newcastle’s duo up top with much more regularity against West Ham than Bruce has allowed him in the past. Hayden’s strong running could threaten a Villa backline that endured a groggy opening salvo last weekend.
Jonjo Shelvey (CM) – Newcastle’s most commonly used player last term has been dubbed the team’s bellwether by Bruce, who told The Chronicle in April: “When he plays well the team play well – it’s quite simple.”
Miguel Almiron (CM) – As eager as he is rapid, Newcastle’s buzzing Paraguayan may have benefitted from the extra rest provided by his nation’s group stage exit from the summer’s Copa America.
Matt Ritchie (LWB) – No player completed more open play crosses into the penalty area for Newcastle last season. Fittingly, Ritchie took the same route to tee up Murphy for Newcastle’s second of the afternoon last weekend.
Allan Saint-Maximin (ST) – Newcastle’s bamboozling number ten was at his dizzying best against West Ham. After just 19 league starts last term, fitness – and perhaps the unique honesty of his Twitter output – remains Newcastle’s only concern with Saint-Maximin.
Callum Wilson (ST) – Fortunately for the Magpies, Wilson can, has and will score against teams other than West Ham. Unfortunately, he’s fired a blank in his last five matches against upcoming opponents Aston Villa – the longest such run of his career.