Aston Villa v Newcastle: Why the Championship league standings don't tell the full story
Last Updated: 24/09/16 5:58pm
Two of the Championship's biggest sides go head-to-head live on Sky Sports on Saturday when Aston Villa host Newcastle.
The clubs have come to blows 150 times in top-flight history, making this a staple fixture of the game in this country. But this will be just the fifth meeting between the two in the second tier, and the first in almost 80 years.
The table would suggest the outcome of this game, despite being played at Villa Park, is a no brainer. Newcastle are 15 places better off than their hosts. However, the Championship table doesn't tell the whole story, as WhoScored.com explain...
Though the assumption that Rafa Benitez's side should comfortably bounce back up to the Premier League is currently more accurate than that of Villa being the Magpies' closest challengers, in truth it's been a frustrating start to the campaign for both sides.
A Villa vs Newcastle
September 24, 2016, 5:15pm
True, Newcastle sit third having averaged two goals per game and conceded just six in eight, but despite their far superior placing, the Toon Army have actually lost more league matches (3) than 18th-placed Villa.
That fact speaks volumes for both of these sides. While Newcastle are capable of tearing opponents apart at this level, they still have it within them to fail to show. That much is best illustrated in their last two results, hammering QPR 6-0 on the road before losing a second home game of the season to a Wolves side well-beaten themselves by Barnsley just days before.
The Championship, after all, is not the cakewalk that the odds might have suggested in Newcastle's favour prior to the campaign.
As far as Villa are concerned it's been a case of so near yet so far and the same old, same old in terms of the mental fragility that continues to curse this squad, despite wholesale changes in the summer.
Roberto Di Matteo's side have won just once in the league to lowly Rotherham and while two defeats doesn't make for poor reading at this stage, their points haul should have been a whole lot healthier.
Indeed, the Villans have already dropped nine points from winning positions this season. When you consider Newcastle haven't dropped a single one the key difference between these sides in terms of their ability to not only hold onto leads but, crucially, build on them becomes clear.
In fact, had Villa not conceded the five goals they've let in during the final five minutes of matches so far this season they'd be level with Newcastle on 15 points.
Defensive lapses have cost both teams, be that the individual mistakes made by Newcastle players or concentration issues at Villa. However, at the other end of the field, where this weekend's visitors have been the proposition so many expected in front of goal this season, Di Matteo's charges have been far more wasteful.
Benitez's side have scored 16 goals this season - second only to surprise package Barnsley - and have done so from fewer shots per game (13.8) than Villa (14.3), who have netted just half that amount (8). This difference in conversion rate, should it continue, would ultimately see Newcastle challenge for the title and their hosts this Saturday struggle to compete for the play-offs, let alone automatic promotion.
Both Newcastle and Villa are capable of out-muscling any of the other 22 sides in this division. The difference is that the latter's frontline has not received the same support from elsewhere that Newcastle's attack has.
If one considers the Magpies' most attacking players to be Dwight Gayle, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Ayoze Perez and Mo Diame, the quartet have scored just six of the club's 16-goal tally. Villa's comparable foursome of Jonathan Kodjia (7.58 rating), Rudy Gestede (7.48), Jordan Ayew (7.37) and Ross McCormack (7.20) have also contributed six and happen to rank, in that order, as the club's highest-rated players thus far, according to WhoScored.com.
The issue for Di Matteo, then, is the fact that the other two goals his side have scored have both come from Jack Grealish, meaning Villa have had just four league goalscorers so far, while Newcastle have already had a remarkable 11.
There will be plenty of attacking talent on display this weekend but to write the hosts off on the basis of the two sides' league standing alone would be churlish. Villa, after all, have trailed for just 49 minutes of Championship action thus far compared to Newcastle's 112 and are yet to lose at home.
Newcastle, though, boast the best away record.
This may not be the top-flight match up it once was, but with no love lost between the supporters, Villa and Newcastle's latest encounter promises to be more of a spectacle than in recent years, given the change in aspirations of the clubs.
It's a game in which the hosts in particular must really avoid defeat. A win would move them within four points of Newcastle, while defeat would leave them 10 adrift and, even at this early stage, could be curtains for their hopes of automatic promotion.