English Premier League

Newcastle United 5 – 1 Aston Villa

Alexander Isak’s clinical finishing helped Newcastle United to an emphatic victory against Aston Villa on the opening weekend of the new Premier League campaign.

Newcastle tore into the visitors from the early stages at St James’ Park and new signing Sandro Tonali made their dominance count when he converted Anthony Gordon’s inviting sixth-minute cross.

Moussa Diaby cancelled out his fellow debutant’s goal within five minutes, though, beautifully controlling a half volley with his weaker foot after Ollie Watkins’ flick on.

But at the culmination of a frantic opening period Isak regained the lead for the Magpies as he slid home Sven Botman’s cut-back across the box.

Isak delicately chipped Emiliano Martinez for his second to give the home side a two-goal cushion after Ezri Konsa inexplicably left the ball in his own penalty box.

Callum Wilson added a fourth following a slick passing move and Harvey Barnes raced clear to score on his competitive debut, ensuring the Magpies followed up their superb 2022-23 campaign with an ideal start.

Gordon shines as Newcastle rip through Villa

Newcastle boss Eddie Howe felt his side were ahead of schedule when they qualified for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years last season.

The Magpies’ challenge is now to maintain their position in the top four of what is likely to be a highly competitive Premier League this season while juggling their participation in Europe’s elite competition.

In contrast to the last campaign, during which they were knocked out of the domestic cups early and had no European commitments, Newcastle will have six Champions League games in midweek between the middle of September and December.

Howe’s side will be in either pot three or four of the Champions League draw and can therefore expect exacting if glamourous fixtures against some of the best teams on the continent.

To help with the increased quantity and quality of matches Howe has made three summer signings, with Italy midfielder Tonali the standout here.

The former AC Milan player was handed an immediate Premier League debut and, in addition to his goal, combined slickly with Bruno Guimaraes and Joelinton in a promising midfield full of athleticism and technique.

Gordon, who made a slow start to his Magpies career after signing from Everton in January, looked like a new signing as he took his impressive form for England Under-21s in the summer into this Premier League opener.

He was selected ahead of summer signing Barnes and justified Howe’s faith in him, with proof of his threat demonstrated by the robust physical treatment he received from the Villa defence.

Having been named player of the tournament in the European Under-21 Championship, Gordon’s overall eagerness was most clearly demonstrated when he chased back to pressurise Diaby with the Villa winger threatening to run clear.

Gordon’s effectiveness, allied to that of the new signings, gave an early indication that Newcastle possess a squad which can compete at home and abroad.

Diaby offers hope for Villa

Villa’s remarkable resurgence under Unai Emery last season produced 43 points in the first five months of 2023, a figure bettered only by Manchester City and two more than the Midlands side managed in the entirety of 2022.

The seventh-place finish he masterminded – Villa’s highest since 2010 – encouraged the club’s board to back the Spaniard in the transfer market.

Emery has added highly rated players in attack and defence in the form of the lightning quick Diaby for a reported £51m and Spain centre-back Pau Torres for £31m.

Those additions have proven to be prescient already as a result of injuries to centre-back Mings and playmaker Emiliano Buendia this week.

Torres, who played for Emery at Villarreal, was introduced when Mings was carried off on the half-hour mark after a challenge with Isak.

Buendia injured his cruciate ligament in training this week and may be out for eight months, but Diaby’s performance offered promise that they have adequate cover for the Argentine’s output in attack.

The French forward scored 14 goals from the wing position for Bayer Leverkusen last season and was an electric presence throughout at St. James’ Park.

With Belgium’s Youri Tielemans and talented English midfielder Jacob Ramsey to come into the side, better days will surely lie ahead for Emery and Villa.

BBC

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