A lot of people may argue that it is no longer about not-losing for Newcastle, but the fact is that the thin squad has already been stretched considerably, with first team regulars like Tiote, Coloccini, Ben Arfa, Taylor, Simpson, Krul and even Cabaye, all missing out on a few games due to injury or suspension.
This blog takes a look at Newcastle’s opponents in Europe, and I will also try to predict the most realistic outcome from the group stage encounters. Now I am in no way a football pundit; just one of the thousands of loyal Newcastle fans just like you, your opinion is just as valid as mine so please do feel free to share.
Newcastle are in Group D of the Europa League, our group opposition being Bordeaux, Maritimo and Club Brugge. As it stands, Bordeaux are leading the group with 3 points from a 4-0 victory over Brugge, and Newcastle and Maritimo are joint-second with 1 point and Club Brugge sit bottom. Newcastle’s next match is against Bordeaux (H), after which our remaining fixtures are Club Brugge (H), Club Brugge (A), Maritimo (H) and Bordeaux (A), in that order. So let’s take a look at what we might expect from the high-flying Magpies in the next couple of months.
Bordeaux are arguably the best club in the group (after Newcastle of course!) and, as mentioned above, they’ve got off to a flier. They’ve seen its fair share of ups and downs but have however won a decent number of silverware domestically – the French League Cup 3 times (2002, 2007 and 2009) and League 1 in 2009, the same season Newcastle was relegated. In the league they currently sit 5th, and haven’t lost a match this season yet.
It is pretty difficult to do a squad to squad comparison due how different French domestic football is to our own, however, our fans would do well to remember that we got players like Cabaye and Ben Arfa from this supposedly lesser league who’ve went on to become Premier League stars. There cannot be any doubt that Bordeaux is a strong team, especially since it recently snatched a goalless draw against a formidable PSG and won vs. Lyon, both away. This season, Bordeaux have been very solid and conservative away from home, conceding none and scoring in just one match out of 4.
However, with our strike force of Ben Arfa, who should be available after serving his suspension, Cisse, Ameobi and the so far prolific Ba should be able to test that record. However, the French side has been just the opposite at home, scoring 11 goals in 5 matches and conceding 6. So that is one contest we should look out for.
Newcastle play Manchester United and arch-rivals Sunderland in their next two games in the league, and Coloccini and Taylor are doubtful for the game on Thursday. This considered Newcastle might not be able to field a first choice side. However the away match is sandwiched between games against Wigan and Fulham, and hence Pardew can field a full strength squad if he wants to, depending on where we are on the table. Anything less than a full strength defence and we may struggle against a strong side.
Newcastle United 3- 1 Bordeaux (St. James Park)
Bordeaux 3-2 Newcastle United (Stade Chaban-Delmas)
The poorly-fought away game ended 0-0, prompting Pardew to praise the players and blaming the ground conditions and climate. Newcastle did come close to scoring in the game, even hitting the post on several occasions. However, the same can be said for the home side as well, and truth be told, Newcastle really should be winning competitions like this purely on the basis of difference in quality between the two sides.
Having said that, the return leg might be a whole new story. The match against Maritimo was Newcastle’s first match in Europe in quite some time, and the away side was missing many of its key players in all areas of the field. The match at St. James’ is after a league match against Swansea and a couple of days before an away game at Southampton.
Both these games will be hard yet winnable for side aspiring Champions League football, and Pardew might not be as lenient with his squad selection against the Portugese outfit. In addition, Maritimo has only scored 0.6 goals per game this season and with a potentional 52,000+ voices cheering the side on, and this should be an easy 3 points for the Toon.
Maritimo 0- 0 Newcastle United (Estádio dos Barreiros)
Newcastle United 3-1 Maritimo (St. James Park)
This Belgian club has consistently been one of the top 4 clubs in the Belgian Pro League, the top tier in Belgium. However, the huge difference is the quality between the two national leagues. And hence, despite finishing mathematically lower in the corresponding domestic leagues last season, Newcastle should be the better side in this matchup.
However, fans should take this with a pinch of salt as the UEFA club coefficient rankings place Bruges just above AZ Alkmaar, the club that sent Newcastle packing the last time we played in Europe. Add to that the fine form the club has been in this season, currently 1st in the league. In fact, they have managed to score 14 goals in 4 home games and conceded only 4. Away, there form has been impressive too, scoring 10 goals and conceding 7, and most importantly, no losses. Hence, it is evident that it is a free scoring side; although how freely the coach will let his side play against a side the caliber of Newcastle is debatable.
Newcastle face Bruges at home after the Sunderland derby and away after playing Liverpool at Anfield. Hence, it is probable that Pardew will choose to rest a few key players, especially if we get a desirable result against Bordeaux. However, Newcastle’s make-shift defence has been tested by sides like Reading already this season and it will not be a surprise if the Belgian side decides that “attack is the best defence”. Hence, both these fixtures have the potential to be hugely entertaining ones, although Newcastle should come out on top, based on its sheer firepower and quality – hopefully.
Newcastle United 4-1 F.C. Bruges (St. James Park)
F. C. Bruges 2-2 Newcastle United (Jan Breydel Stadium)
Summing all of the above, Newcastle should get about 11 points from the group stage in my opinion. Last season, AZ Alkmaar and FCSB qualified from the group stages with 8 points each, the lowest tally among qualifying teams. However, teams like Tottenham, PSG and Birmingham did not qualify despite tallying 10 points each.
From Newcastle’s perspective, 11 points should see them through and hence should be a minimum target, seeing that I have not assumed any away victories in this analysis. This of course could all change seeing the grueling schedule that the side will be subjected to in the next few months, and Pardew might choose or may be forced to field sides that do not quite reproduce the quality of our first team. However, we have already seen flashes of quality from Anita, Sammy, Amalfitano and the teenager Bigi, and players like Cabaye and Cisse have not yet hit their pick forms. Hopefully, the responsibility of getting us results in the Premier League and Europa League would be shared by our thin yet extremely talented squad, and come December we will be where we want to be, top 5 in the league and top of the table in Group D of the Europa League!
Author: Samidh Bhattacharyya, an Indian Newcastle United fan currently studying in Orlando, USA. He loves anything and everything Newcastle United. You can follow his Twitter here.