Aston Villa boss Unai Emery admits he will be confronting a “different” Newcastle to the one he turned down the chance of managing last season.
Emery rejected Newcastle’s advances for him to succeed Steve Bruce in November 2021, with the Spaniard saying he was fully committed to LaLiga club Villarreal.
Newcastle subsequently appointed Eddie Howe, the former Bournemouth boss who has steered the Magpies from the bottom three to the top three of the Premier League.
The two in-form sides meet at Villa Park on Saturday lunchtime with Newcastle chasing a Champions League place and Emery’s sixth-placed team also in the hunt for European qualification.
“When I analyse Newcastle, I changed my idea of them,” said Emery, who is aiming to become the first Villa manager to oversee five successive Premier League wins since John Gregory in 1998.
“This new Newcastle are adding players and paying money for them. Their idea is to improve and to get in the top six and now they’re in the top four.
“They are signing players, very good players, young, experienced, mixed and they are keeping the squad with players they had before.
“Progressively, they are growing up. Historically they’re a big team. Last year they weren’t in the same way but now it’s a different Newcastle.
“The coach is doing very good work and his team has an identity. They are strong in their mentality and are building a very serious and organised team.”
Villa have surged up the league since losing 4-0 at Newcastle on October 29 and falling to 16th.
Emery officially took charge a few days later and Villa have since taken 35 points from 17 games.
It is a run that has catapulted Villa into a Europa League place and Emery said: “We have to be happy but thinking we can’t stop now and are deserving to get in the top 10.
“We have now added a new realistic objective (Europe) and we have to be very, very focused about this possibility.
“It will be difficult because we are facing teams like Liverpool, Brentford, Brighton and Chelsea and this game is a key moment to be there or not.
“The objective for the club is to be quick doing it – of course it’s better. But I want to create or build a strong way and that’s at the end of what we’re doing.”
Ollie Watkins has spearheaded Villa’s rise with nine goals in 11 games, scoring in nine of those games.
But Emery continues to contend with a casualty list that includes Matty Cash (calf), Boubacar Kamara (ankle), Philippe Coutinho (hamstring) and Leon Bailey (hamstring).