Newcastle play their 6th game in 17 days on Thursday evening when Ligue 1 outfit Girondins Bordeaux visit St. James’ Park for the first time. Having faced relative minnows so far in the competition, Newcastle fans will no doubt look forward to competing against a team with considerable domestic pedigree, while a quick glance at their history in Uefa competition suggests we could be in for a tough encounter.
Newcastle collected a potentially precious point in their previous Europa League outing away at Maritimo, however the context of that result will become clearer following this week’s round of fixtures.
A home win against our toughest competitor in the group will stand us in good stead moving forward with another home game to follow 3 weeks later. Defeat at such an early stage in the competition would be recoverable in theory, but given an indifferent start to the season and a tough pair of fixtures coming up in the premier league, a mid-week ‘confidence booster’ couldn’t come at a better time.
In the last round of fixtures while we were feeling our way back into European competition in Madeira, Bordeaux helped themselves to a comfortable home win, sweeping aside Club Bruges 4-0. Newcastle will need to field a strong team on Thursday if they are to take anything from the game.
Team News: Newcastle
Long term absentee Ryan Taylor remains out, while news of a return to fitness for Danny Simpson and Tim Krul is yet to be confirmed by the club. Steven Taylor is likely to miss out following a calf injury picked up at the beginning of the second half in Saturdays match against Reading. Yohan Cabaye and Fabricio Coloccini both missed out on that game and news is awaited on their likely returns. There has been plenty of noise this week from former Bordeaux winger Gabriel Obertan, who expects to start against his old club, while Hatem Ben Arfa is available after serving his third and final match against Maritimo of a suspension picked up whilst at l’OM.
Team News: Bordeaux
Bordeaux will look to extend their unbeaten run to an impressive 18 matches, on the back of a similarly impressive 2-0 away win at Lyon in Ligue 1 at the weekend. Captain Jaroslav Plasil and alleged former Toon target Cheick Diabate are both likely to make the first XI, while former Sunderland attacker David Bellion could feature.
Bordeaux squad to travel: Cedric Carrasso, Kevin Olimpa, Henrique, Mariano, Florian Marange, Marc Planus, Matthieu Chalme, Ludovic Sane, Benoit Tremoulinas, Yoan Gouffran, Jaroslav Plasil, Abdou Traore, Landry Nguemo, Henri Saivet, Ludovic Obraniak, Jussie, Cheick Diabate, David Bellion.
It seems that Alan Pardew will once again field a weakened team in this competition, with a huge game against Manchester United on the horizon. This time though, a number of changes are likely to be forced with key players recovering from niggling injuries. It remains to be seen whether Hatem Ben Arfa will make his first appearance for Newcastle in Europe, however based on the managers philosophy thus far this season, we are more likely to see Gabriel Obertan and/or Sylvain Marveaux take over the creative mantle.
Newcastle have done their utmost this season to keep key players wrapped up in cotton wool during mid-week, with the intention of unleashing them at the weekend with a fresh pair of legs. This is a luxury that has been ill-afforded to Mike Williamson however, who has been United’s only fully fit senior centre half in recent weeks resulting in a starting berth in 6 of the last 7 games in all competitions – a feat matched by his defensive colleague James Perch.
Doubts over Taylor and Coloccini suggest that the Williamson-Perch partnership is set to continue, while youngsters James Tavernier, Shane Ferguson and Gael Bigirimana have featured heavily in recent weeks and are likely to be involved in some capacity. Also, expect to see Rob Elliot return between the sticks after some impressive performances this season.
Did you know?
Bordeaux reached the final of the UEFA cup back in the 1995-96 season after qualifying for the competition through the Intertoto cup, only to lose out to German giants Bayern Munich. Europe’s secondary tournament was a lot more competitive back then, with Milan, Barcelona, AS Roma, PSV, Bordeaux, Bayern Munich, Slavia Prague and Notts Forest all reaching the quarter finals.
Bordeaux making the final may appear a surprise to many considering the who’s who of European football they were up against, but a team bristling with talent such as Zinedine Zidane, Bixente Lizarazu and Christophe Dugarry had every chance of causing an upset amongst Europe’s elite.
Some fantastic players took part in the competition that year who went on to grace (and in many cases dominate) World Cups for years to come. The likes of Ronaldo, Pavel Nedved, and Zidane used this competition to showcase their talents and act as a platform for future success, while established starts like Jurgen Klinnsmann, Gheorghe Hagi and George Weah provided the star quality and attraction to millions of spectators across the continent.
Judging by the comments of Bordeaux coach Francis Gillot prior to their league game at the weekend, the Europa League sits high up on their list of priorities, so we should expect to come up against a full strength team on Thursday:
“We’ve chosen to play Europe flat out and that means we’re likely to drop points in the next few matches. The lack of concentration comes from fatigue.”
Bordeaux have become somewhat renowned in France for their defensive style and difficulty to break down, particularly away from home. Their captain Jaroslav Plasil recently suggested that their tactics are possibly a little too defensive, however they take great pleasure in achieving positive results away from home. Their style of play coupled with the likelihood of fielding a strong line-up make Bordeaux by far the toughest opponents in Group D.
This game would be testing for us with a full strength XI, so with injuries and the resting of key players, United’s troops are going to have to pull off a special performance if they are to take all of the spoils. Perhaps the quality of the opposition will bring the best out of our fringe players, and this game could provide a platform for progression into the first team. Conversely, this game may prove a step too far for a group of players who have yet to fully convince the manager they can cut it in the premier league week in week out.
This game looks the perfect opportunity to start Papiss Cisse up top without Demba Ba, who will be one of the favourites to be rested for the game against Man Utd. Pairing Cisse alongside another forward looks essential to both ours and his success, as he’s looked a bit lost so far on the occasions he has led the line on his own. Playing either Vuckic or Shola alongside him would take away some of the physical strain, and hopefully allow him to find a bit more space in and around the penalty area.
If Pardew decides to go with 2 up top, it would seem sensible to play Shane Ferguson out wide, after two impressive cameo displays providing two assists in his last outings. If fit, Cabaye could do with some minutes on the pitch as he has yet to hit the heights of last season due largely to playing catch up with his fitness – his absence from the last 2 won’t have helped either! It is more likely however that the United manager will start with 2 from Tiote, Anita, Bigirimana or Dan Gosling in the centre of the park, with James Perch likely to fill in at the back in the absence of Taylor and Coloccini.
It is important that Pardew gets his team selection right, with the choice of specific personnel in the mix between youth and experience likely to prove vital. Selection of one or 2 ‘big hitters’ would not be a bad thing, especially for those struggling for form and rhythm in the Premier League.
A positive result and a good showing against Bordeaux will set us up nicely for the big one at the weekend, while defeat would be a significant blow to the temperament of players and spectators alike.
Many thanks to Martin Gibson for sending in this utterly fantastic preview!