It’s here where the fruits of labour from last season are realised as return to “proper” European competition for the first time in five years.
The group stages of the competition kick off in earnest and Newcastle have found themselves drawn together with S.C. Maritimo of Purtugal, FC Girondins de Bordeaux of France and Club Brugge of Belgium. Together the four of us make up Group D with the top two progressing forward to the round of 32.
It’s in the small island of Madeira, off the South-West coast of Portugal that our European campaign really begins. The island capital of Funchal, home of our opponents S.C. Maritimo, is actually closer to Casablanca in Morocco than it is to Lisbon in Portugal, but I’ll spare you any more geography lessons!
Team news: Newcastle
Hatem Ben Arfa serves the third and final game of a suspension earned during his days with Marseille. Cheik Tiote, Ryan Taylor, Tim Krul and Danny Simpson are all out and Fabricio Coloccini is highly unlikely to feature. Papiss Cisse misses out through illness whilst Demba Ba has been left out of the squad entirely.
Team news: S.C. Maritimo
Maritimo have just one absentee going into the match. Midfielder Rodrigo Antonio was sent off in the second leg of their play-off clash with FC Dila of Georgia and will miss the game through suspension. Apart from that they have a clean bill of health.
Once more we are likely to see a change from the side that played at Everton on Monday night, and with a Premier League game against Norwich City to consider on Sunday afternoon I’d tend to agree with that. However it’s all about striking the balance between trying to do well in the Europa League and trying not to impact on our domestic season.
Alan Pardew has already admitted that he will change the team around, but what changes can he really make? And how far do you go with said changes?
In terms of defence there isn’t a lot we can do. Perhaps we could bring in James Tavernier and Shane Ferguson at right and left back respectively, but then you are relying on Mike Williamson and Steven Taylor playing three games in six days. Perhaps Tavernier could slot into central defence in place of either Taylor or Williamson instead?
In midfield I’m actually not too worried. We have the resources in that part of the pitch to completely change things around with players like Gael Bigirimana, James Perch, Sammy Ameobi, Dan Gosling, Romain Amalfitano, Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux all able to fill in.
Up front we are struggling again. Shola Ameobi and Adam Campbell are the only two fit recognised strikers we have taken to Portugal. Mind you Campbell scored again for the ressies yesterday!
Did you know?
This is the fourth side from Portugal we have faced in European competition. The other three are Sporting Lisbon, Vitoria Setubul and FC Porto.
This is United’s 17th season of European football.
We have played Maritimo before, way back in 1982 in a friendly match that we won 1-0 courtesy of a Chris Waddle goal.
Shola Ameobi is our second highest European goalscorer ever with 12 goals, including that goal in the Nou Camp all those years ago. Mind you, he is some way behind Alan Shearer who has 30 European strikes for United to his name.
I want to see us do well more than anything else, and whatever team that plays should go there in the belief that they can win. Realistically a point away from home isn’t a bad result if we make sure we win our home fixtures so I’ll be happy with that.
Maritimo struggle with scoring goals and have done since they sold their start striker to Sevilla over the summer so there is always a chance that we could get something if we can keep things tight at the back.
Now is the time for some of the young lads and fringe players to shine. They will be given a chance and it’s up to them to take it with both hands.
Howay the lads!
Date: Thursday, 20th September, 2012
Time: 6pm (UK time) – Live on ESPN
Venue: Estádio dos Barreiros, Funchal, Portugal