Newcastle return to Europa League action tomorrow when Belgian outfit Club Brugge visit St James’ Park in what will be third game in the group stage of the competition.
Brugge will be the fifth Belgian opposition we’ve come up against in our history, having previously tussled with Anderlecht, Zulte Waregem, Royal Antwerp and Lokeren.
They aren’t doing too badly this season either. It’s early days on the Belgian league but given the fact that I spend so much time here in Belgium I nearly always end up watching their version of Match of the Day and have seen them a number of times this season. They have one of two players who have jumped out at me as being handy. One plays for Anderlecht and goes by the name of Dieumerci Mbokani. The other we should see tomorrow and goes by the name of Carlos Bacca.
Club Brugge currently occupy first place in the Belgian Jupiler Pro League but only on goals scored ahead of Anderlecht. Offensively they can cause problems but defensively they can be got at as their goals against tally, and a thumping from Bordeaux, will testify to.
Newcastle have a clean bill of health aside from the longer term injuries to Haris Vuckic, Dan Gosling and Ryan Taylor. Fabricio Coloccini is alright after coming off against Sunderland on Sunday but he may be rested for the Premier League game against West Brom this weekend. The same could be said for a number of purple players.
However we could see Spanish flop Xisco come out from the cold for this one and the former Deportivo man may be rewarded for his three goals in the U21s in midweek with a spot on the bench. And why not? Isn’t that why players play in them, to be in with a shout of playing for the first team? Sylvain Marveaux also played well in that midweek game and could come back into the side for this one.
Obviously as there has been no meetings between the two sides previously I can’t really cover any previous games between us, so instead what I’ll do is cover a few bits of European history for each respective side.
Although they’ve never won a European trophy, Club Brugge have come close twice. They were beaten by Liverpool over two legs in the 1976 UEFA Cup final, losing 4-3 on aggregate, before again falling at the hand of Liverpool in 1978, losing 1-0 in the final of what we all now know as the Champions League. They are the only Belgian club that has made the final of the old European Cup.
They’ve played in European competition in 39 years of the 45 since they made their debut in the Fairs Cup back in the 1967-1968 season racking up 231 games in all European competition. The UEFA Cup/Europa League is the competition where they have spent most of their time though having played 126 of their 231 continental ties in this competition.
For Newcastle, this will be our 125th European tie. We’ve won 71 games, drawn 24 and lost 29. Our last European defeat on home soil came back in 2005-2006 when Deportivo La Coruna came away from St James’ Park with a 2-1 victory ending our participation in the Intertoto Cup and ensuring we missed out on qualifying for the UEFA Cup proper that season.
Put simply, if we win our two remaining home games then we are likely to have done enough to progress to the knockout stages, however I think our away results will have a bearing over whether we go through as group winners or runners up. There fore it is important that we name a string side and see off the challenge the Belgians may present.
But once again we return to the balancing act between domestic and European commitments. We need to keep some players fresh for the weekend visit of West Brom so I expect to see a mixture of fringe players getting a chance along with some more established names making an appearance.
We do have enough to see off the Club Brugge. They are a decent side in the Belgian league, but it isn’t the best standard so it is a game we should be looking to win. Still, the job needs doing and regardless of how unfashionable the Belgian league is, we still have to make sure we turn up geared for a win.
Howay the lads!
Date: Thursday, 25th October, 2012
Venue: St James’ Park