Sun 13 Aug 2023, 13:48 · NUFCFEED

Newcastle United 5-1 Aston Villa: Premier League match report, highlights, player ratings, and Howe/Isak/Barnes reactions

Newcastle United 5-1 Aston Villa: Premier League match report, highlights, player ratings, and Howe/Isak/Barnes reactions
Owen Humphreys/PA
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Newcastle United got their 2023/24 Premier League campaign off to the best possible start with a thumping 5-1 win over Aston Villa at St. James' Park on Saturday evening.

Eddie Howe was thrilled with what he saw from his players, reserving special praise for his two debutants. Sandro Tonali, who started, and Harvey Barnes, who played the final 22 minutes.

There were superb performances all over the pitch in black and white, though, with Alexander Isak leading the line brilliantly, Anthony Gordon and Miguel Almirón always a threat, and Joelinton back to his best.

Bruno Guimarães was perhaps the only slight disappointment on the day, as he struggled with the physicality of the opposing midfielders throughout. There was still as much good as bad from our magical Brazilian, though he still doesn't look quite right to our untrained eyes.

As they had done against Villarreal six days previously, the Magpies went ahead in the sixth minute, this time through Tonali, who put on an absolute masterclass in his first competitive game. He initially won possession back to get Newcastle on the attack and was involved in the build-up, along with Joelinton (twice), Trippier, Guimarães, and most notably Gordon.

It was the Scouse winger's brilliant left-footed cross that found Tonali steaming in to volley the ball home acrobatically on the six-yard line. Moussa Diaby equalised five minutes later and was threatening throughout but in another five minutes, Howe's team were ahead again.

It was a set-piece routine this time, with Trippier rolling the ball wide to Tonali who swung in a peach of a cross to find the outstretched boot of Sven Botman at the far post. The big Dutchman did brilliantly to hook the ball back into the path of Isak, who tucked home easily from nine yards without breaking stride.

A serious injury to Tyrone Mings then quelled Newcastle's momentum and dampened the St. James' Park atmosphere, but the home side regrouped at half-time and never looked like losing when attacking the downhill towards the Gallowgate End.

Isak's brace was completed on 58 minutes, after Guimarães picked the ball up deep, glided past Douglas Luiz, and found Gordon down the left. The winger slid a through ball into the box for Isak which had too much weight on it, but instead of dealing with the situation Ezri Konsa had a nightmare and allowed the Swede to gain control of the ball.

What came next was simply stunning, with the number 14 dinking impudently over Emiliano Martínez and Pau Torres into the far corner from the edge of the six-yard box. He should have completed his hat trick when put through again by Almirón moments later, but Martínez came out on top in the one-on-one on that occasion.

The striker was replaced fairly soon after by Callum Wilson, who took just nine minutes to open his account for the campaign. His was the best "team goal" of the quintet, with Bruno, Tonali, and Joelinton all involved in releasing Barnes down the left. The winger, who had joined the action alongside Wilson in place of Gordon, then stroked a perfect pass across the box for Wilson to finish beautifully from the penalty spot.

The number nine missed a sitter after being unselfishly teed up by Barnes once more before Barnes decided to have a go himself when put through by a sumptuous Jacob Murphy pass after more sterling work by Tonali. The winger took two great touches when sprinting at full speed before sliding the ball into the far corner past Martínez from 10 yards, capping an immense contribution from the bench.

After a fiercely contested first half that Newcastle just about shaded, the Magpies simply blew Unai Emery's Villans away after the break. This was an absolute demolition by the end and the visitors could have had no complaints if the Howe's side had scored seven or eight.

The head coach and his supporting staff appear to have got the players to peak fitness already, with the rigours of the toughest pre-season schedule we've ever faced already paying off. Now that Howe has options to use from the bench when his starters tire, we shouldn't be afraid of anybody, at home or abroad.

Bring on City next weekend and then Liverpool thereafter.

Are there any highlights of the game?

Sky Sports have all of the key moments on their YouTube channel, which are surely worth another five or 10 viewings!

What were the player ratings?

There wasn't a poor performance in the Newcastle ranks, but it's hard to look beyond Tonali for the Man of the Match award on his home debut. The Italian midfielder was everywhere, opened the scoring, and played with the calmness and grace of someone 10 years his senior. This was a genuine midfield masterclass, it had a bit of everything.

Isak's two goals push him close, of course, though the Swede was less instrumental in our overall dominance and was taken off fairly early on. Barnes put in one of the best substitute performances we've ever witnessed, too, looking razor-sharp and coming away with a goal and assist (he should've had two).

The back five were excellent, though Dan Burn had some tough moments against Villa's wingers, while Bruno seemed to struggle with the power and pace of the visitors' central midfielders. He still contributed plenty to the win but seemed disappointed with his showing when brought off for Longstaff late on.

A word for Joelinton, Almirón, Gordon, and Murphy too. All of them played a huge role here, with Gordon, in particular, rewarding Howe's faith in him with his best display at St. James'. Murphy continues to be a great option from the bench and got a deserved assist, while Joelinton's all-round performance was what we have now come to expect from the big Brazilian.

Many have questioned Almirón remaining as our first choice on the right wing, but he was an absolute menace throughout here, and his effort and commitment are never in doubt.

Newcastle United (4-3-3): Pope 8; Trippier 8, Schär 8, Botman 8, Burn 7; Tonali 9 (Anderson 6), Guimarães 7 (Longstaff 6), Joelinton 8; Almirón 8 (J. Murphy 7), Isak 9 (Wilson 8), Gordon 8 (Barnes 9).

What was Eddie Howe's reaction?

The head coach spoke to NUFC TV shortly after the final whistle, here are the best of his quotes:

"It was a massive win for us. When the fixture list came out we knew the importance of this game and we were determined to try and do well. It was an electric start, the crowd were amazing for us, really pushed us and helped us, and it ended up being a great day.

He (Tonali) was magnificent for us. I'm just delighted with his overall performance really. I thought he knitted into the midfield really well and built up a really good relationship with Bruno and those players on the right-hand side. It's been a really good day and that just helps so much for him.

We weren't perfect today. There's a lot for us to improve. Certainly, defensively we had a couple of scary moments so we'll go back and reflect on that to try and find little tweaks to make us better. The overall fitness levels of the players were excellent, we looked stronger as the game went on, and there was confidence, especially when we started to score. We could have scored more.

I don't think I'd realised quite how good it was (Isak's finish for the second goal), as I'd only seen it live. Alex was good today, it was great to see him score and great to see Callum (Wilson) score, as you need your goalscorers to feel good about themselves. Harvey (Barnes) on debut as well, as it can't be underestimated how important it is to start well at a new club.

The game was perfectly set up for him (Barnes) and Callum to come on, their line was high and the two pairs of fresh legs made a difference. They combined well. It was great to see Harvey run through and score himself.

It's a tough place to play (the Etihad Stadium), I think the toughest in the Premier League. We go there feeling good about ourselves, though, and we're prepared to try and win."

What did Alexander Isak and Harvey Barnes have to say?

Our brace-scoring Swede also spoke to the club's official media after the game, most notably commenting:

"The first one (goal) was more about positioning, I was in a good position and I think Sven (Botman) did great to get the ball to me in that position. I just stayed focused and put it in the goal.

The second one was a bit more of a cheeky one. I was calm, collected, and chipped it. It was great to win the ball there and put it in the back of the net. In front of that side (the Gallowgate End) it's always a bit more special.

A good start is what you want but it's a long season so we don't look too far ahead. We'll take it one game at a time and the next one is (Manchester) City. I prefer to play the strong teams early so it's good for us to play them next week."

And the former Leicester winger capped everything off with a beaming interview of his own:

"I'm delighted. Coming off the bench, it's what you want to do as an attacker, you want to come on and make an impact to help the team get the result across the line, which I think the extra goals did.

It was great, the atmosphere. I've experienced it previously as the away side but having them behind me was great. I could see from the off that they were really up for it, so I came on and really felt that.

Villa are a good side and we know we've got a tough start in the league. We knew this was going to be a tough game but we approached it right, stuck to the gameplan, and we were clinical in a lot of phases.

It's going to be a tough game going away to Man City, but we're not going to be in a better place than this going into that. We're full of confidence. The team will be buzzing, raring to go, and hopefully we can get a result."

What's next for NUFC?

The toughest trip on the Premier League calendar. Manchester City away on Saturday evening.

It's an 8 p.m. BST kick-off and is being televised on TNT Sports (formerly BT) in the UK and Ireland.

Howay Eddie Howe's top-of-the-table Mags!