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Newcastle’s dip in form, coupled with Fulham’s revival, leaves Steve Bruce’s side in a precarious position at the business end of the Premier League. Playing for a goalless draw at West Brom marks a new low in a season full of lows for Newcastle and they desperately need a victory against Villa on Friday night to stave off the threat of dropping into the bottom three.
Newcastle are without a win in four league games and face a crucial clash with fellow strugglers Brighton next weekend. A win on Friday would give their survival hopes a major shot in the arm, but they could struggle against an Aston Villa side in desperate need of a win themselves.
Villa have struggled in the absence of Jack Grealish and have won just once in their last five league games, scoring two goals. However, Dean Smith’s side missed several gilt-edged chances in an entertaining goalless draw with Wolves last week and will be the more adventurous side on Friday night, paving the way for an away win.
Villa’s defensive record is nothing short of remarkable. From boasting the second-worst defensive record in the league last season, Dean Smith’s side currently boast the third-best record in the division behind Chelsea and Manchester City.
Emiliano Martinez, who has proved to be one of the signings of the summer, can draw level with Ederson in the race for the Golden Glove if Villa manage to record their 15th clean sheet of the season on Friday and they will fancy their chances of doing so.
Friday 20:00: Newcastle v Aston Villa
BT Sport 1
Villa have kept clean sheets in 11 of their 12 Premier League wins, including their 2-0 win over Newcastle in January. Newcastle, meanwhile, have drawn blanks in exactly one-third of their league games this season and have been the fifth-worst goalscorers in the division.
They could easily draw their 10th blank of the season on Friday.
Ollie Watkins has struggled in front of goal since Grealish’s injury but has still proved to be an excellent piece of business. The £28 million striker has found the net ten times this season, scoring crucial goals in some of Villa’s standout results during their excellent campaign.
However, the former Brentford striker has also struck the woodwork an agonising seven times – more than any other Premier League player. Watkins cracked a long-range shot against the bar in Villa’s stalemate with Wolves last week and will be keen to break his five-game goal duck against a team that he has already scored against this season.
The Premier League began with a bang last September when every game looked capable of producing high-scoring thrillers. Those days are long gone now, however. The league’s goal per game rate stood at an incredible 3.68 in September, but there have been just two goals per game in the month of March, including six 1-0s and three 0-0s in 18 games.
Of the 18 games played so far in March, 11 have seen less than 2.5 goals as teams struggle to deal with congestion and injuries in this most unusual of seasons. Considering Villa have been involved in 10 0-0s or 1-0s, the chances of them suddenly going goal-crazy in the North East are decidedly low, especially in the absence of their talisman.
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