Aston Villa defeated Newcastle United, 2-0, in front of a sold-out Villa Park on Saturday afternoon for their first victory of the 2021/22 Premier League season.
Danny Ings and Anwar El Ghazi scored in the first and second halves, respectively, as Villa navigated a rocky start on their way to securing three points.
Manager Dean Smith went with a 4-3-3 formation with Ings between El Ghazi and Emi Buendia up top and John McGinn alongside Jacob Ramsey and Douglas Luiz in a three-man midfield. Ashley Young started at left back ahead of Matt Targett, who has struggled for form.
Aston Villa were rewarded for a much better effort vs. Newcastle
Newcastle was energetic from the start and dangerous on the counter, setting up a nervy opening 20 minutes for the home side. In the fifth minute, Callum Wilson snuck in behind the Villa defense but failed to convert on a wide-open 1-v-1 chance with keeper Emi Martinez.
Villa grew into the game, slowly but surely dominating possession as the first half went on. Ings nearly put the hosts on the board in the 20th minute when he took a through ball from Ramsey in the box, but the forward was deemed offside.
Ings eventually put Villa ahead when he scored a world-class goal in added time (45’+3′). Villa won a throw from the right side deep in the Newcastle end, and Matty Cash assumed responsibility. The right back’s long throw into the box was played on by Tyrone Mings’ head and Ings, in the center of the box, struck with a bicycle-kick effort that beat Freddie Woodman on his left.
Quite a way to endear yourself to the Villa Park faithful on your home debut.
Villa picked up where they left off in the second half, further stymieing the Newcastle attack while maintaining possession. Forward Allan Saint-Maximin was identified as the danger man heading into this fixture, and the Villa backline was up to the task.
The Villans were rewarded for their solid all-around play in the 62nd minute when El Ghazi converted on a penalty to double the lead (2-0). VAR awarded the penalty after Mings headed an attempt goal-ward that Jamaal Lascelles blocked with his left arm. The chance came off a left-sided free kick taken by McGinn just outside of the Newcastle box.
The goal sprung Newcastle, who carried play over the next 15 or so minutes. Wilson appeared to have won a penalty in the 75th minute, but VAR ruled the forward offside. Newcastle’s intent sputtered from there, and Villa managed the closing moments well.
Overall this was a much better effort from Villa than we saw at Watford last week. The 4-3-3 formation suits Smith’s squad well, and the most notable improvements from last week came via the midfield.
Luiz’s inclusion gave the team better build-up options and proved a significant upgrade over Marvelous Nakamba in defensive midfield. McGinn and Ramsey work well together, and we’re likely to see more of that pairing moving forward. They may have lined up with Ramsey as a number 10 and McGinn more withdrawn, but they did well to interchange and cover one another.
Cash’s performance on the right was the highlight of an improved defensive effort. He and Konsa contained Saint-Maximin well and were one half of a back four that was much better suited to handle a counter-attacking side than last week.
El Ghazi, to be fair, was a bit anonymous again, but surely he’ll benefit from a confidence boost after converting the penalty.
Buendia was much better in and out of possession this week, but he needs to see more of the ball. Villa are so used to creating from the left side that, at times, it feels like Buendia is left out. If Villa are to find consistent success this season, they need to run through Buendia more. The Argentine was better on the press this week as well, breaking up passes on multiple occasions.
Ings was a threat but, at this point, Villa have yet to create many chances in open play. As the season moves on, Ings will get better service, and when that happens, look out. He’s got two goals from two despite a lack of service.
Getting in the win column was important for Villa given the circumstances surrounding the club this summer. And as much as this was an improvement from Watford, there’s a lot that still needs to be better, specifically going forward.
Smith has a variety of attacking options at his disposal, more so than at any other time during his tenure with the club. He has to find the right balance to ensure this team is a threat going forward every weekend.