Take a look at Newcastle's fixture list for the remainder of the season:
(a) Vs. Man City, Sat. 30 March
(a) Vs. Benfica, Thu. 4 April
(h) Vs. Fulham, Sun. 7 April
(h) Vs. Benfica, Thu. 11 April
(h) Vs. Sunderland, Sun. 14 April
(a) Vs. West Brom, Sat. 20 April
(h) Vs. Liverpool, Sat. 27 April
(a) Vs. West Ham, Sat. 4 May
(a) Vs. QPR, Sun. 12 May
(h) Vs. Arsenal, Sun. 19 May
With the added bonus of a Europa League quarter final with Portuguese giants Benfica, the season run-in looks enticing and full of promise.
However, we needn’t look at the club’s situation entirely through rose-tinted spectacles. Newcastle currently lie 13th in the League with 33 points, six points off the drop (bearing in mind that 18th placed Wigan have a game in hand).
The common statement heard every year around this time of the season is “40 points will do”, meaning that the Magpies will probably need at least two wins to be sure of survival. Looking at the fixture list, those valuable six points look there for the taking in the club’s next two home games, against Fulham and Sunderland.
But this is where we could encounter a problem, for those two matches both occur three days after the two Europa League legs. Inevitably, if we are to play our strongest line-ups against Benfica, the players won’t be as near as fresh as our adversaries.
Though possessing a notoriously woeful away record, Fulham took advantage of a Spurs side knackered from a Europa League tie with Inter three days before. And, as well as it being a crucial game in terms of points gained, something just as important is at stake in our match against our bitter rivals – pride.
After those two matches, we face West Brom, West Ham and QPR away, two of which could still be scrapping for Premier League survival at the time. Given that we’ve won one away game all season in the league, I don’t fancy relying on three points away from St James’ Park.
And then there’s the last two home games. One against Liverpool, known to have strong ends to the season, and the other against Arsenal, who are fighting for a place in the top 4. No doubt, it’s a tough set of fixtures.
But then there’s the lure of European glory, of a trophy which would signal our continued progress as a club. The choices are difficult – League or Europe? There’s no denying the fact that one could jeopardise the other. If Pardew’s men come away with no wins against Fulham and Sunderland, then the nerves might begin to intensify. Then again, would European success galvanise the players? The options, benefits and repercussions are endless, and I’m far from reaching a conclusion as to what should be done.
What I can say with confidence is that the Europa League is a marvellous tournament for the club to be in, and one that should be treated with respect. But what I’ll also say is that Newcastle United are not safe yet. As much as we’d like to believe it, 33 points with eight games left guarantees nothing. So do well go all out, or play the safe option? I’d be interested to hear your views.
Should Pardew rest certain players to improve the chances of gaining the valuable six points? Or are the quarter finals of the Europa League a feat and occasion too good to neglect?