Stop John McGinn & utilise the set piece – The key areas Newcastle United can exploit Aston Villa
As Newcastle prepare to travel to Aston Villa on Monday, their hopes may rest on a simple question: which Villa will turn up?
Will it be the side whose early results generally matched their positive performances, or the one hamstrung in recent weeks by bad luck and a lack of clean sheets?
And will keeping one player in check be the key to a third Premier League victory on the road for Steve Bruce as he returns to Villa Park - and a frosty welcome?
We look at four key areas where United’s hopes may stand or fall.
Stopping John McGinn
Scotland midfielder John McGinn has been the undoubted shining light in an intermittently flickering start by newly-promoted Villa.
Capable of making late runs beyond his main striker, playing balls through or beyond a back-line and scoring spectacularly from distance, McGinn has three goals and two assists in his debut Premier League season.
So what price Isaac Hayden being specifically asked to use his physicality and mobility to track - and neutralise - a player who has also shone for Scotland this week?
Can Newcastle utilise the right?
After showing plenty of enterprise down their left side this season, Newcastle showed last time out against Bournemouth that they can be just as threatening when raiding down the right.
Even aside from his goal against the Cherries, Andre Yedlin was a constant threat with his pace in support of Miguel Almiron.
Villa left-back Matt Targett is physically resolute but is far from lightning-quick, and his legs could be tested - especially if United look to play on the break.
Closing down from distance
Villa have not wanted for ambition this season, with 46% of their shots on goal at Villa Park coming from outside the penalty area.
Predictably, McGinn and fellow creative force Jack Grealish are the players who have most often tried their luck from range.
But their supposedly more defensively minded fellow midfielder Marvelous Nakamba has also threatened from distance.
If United play three centre-backs at Villa Park, one of them may have to be prepared to push up and press Dean Smith’s men as they eye up “top bins”.
All set at set pieces?
With Tyrone Mings’ club form not helped by manager Dean Smith rotating between Bjorn Engels and Ezri Konsa as his centre-back partner, Villa’s biggest weakness has been obvious this season.
Seven of the 20 Premier League goals they have conceded have come from set pieces - including against Brighton and Liverpool at Villa Park.
And Newcastle have become set piece experts themselves, scoring from two corners and a free kick in their 3-2 victory at West Ham on November 2.