Newcastle return to Europa League action tomorrow evening knowing that victory over Portuguese outfit C.S. Maritimo will guarantee them a place in the knockout stages of the competition next year.
In direct contrast to our Premier League form, our life in the Europa League this season has been relatively easy by comparison. Unbeaten and with only two goals conceded we’ve made light work of our group stage campaign, a feat made even more impressive when you consider the fact we’ve got ourselves to the brink of qualification using mainly reserve and youth players.
However the job is not done yet and heads must be kept in the right place to avoid any signs of overconfidence. There are several scenarios that will see United through to the next round tomorrow night with the most straightforward one being a win for us. However a draw would also suffice providing Club Brugge fail to beat Bordeaux and even a loss would see us through providing Bordeaux beat Club Brugge on Belgian soil although that particular scenario would also see us lose top spot in the group.
Newcastle are without Yohan Cabaye who will undergo groin surgery and will miss “several weeks” as a result although I personally reckon we’re looking at something like a three month absence for the France international.
Also out of action are Adam Campbell, Ryan Taylor, Dan Gosling, Haris Vuckic, James Perch, Xisco and Gabriel Obertan which makes a sizeable dent in our options.
Shola Ameobi has a slight groin niggle and may well be forced to miss the match while Cheik Tiote will watch on from the sidelines as he serves a one game suspension for totting up yellow cards.
Fabricio Coloccini will play as he is banned in the league and this match will offer him some match sharpness and Jonas Gutierrez is expected to return to the side having just missed out against Swansea at the weekend.
The only history between the two sides in the 0-0 draw in our opening group stage game. Maritimo have lost four of their six domestic games since that night in Madeira and they are yet to win in the group stages of Europe scoring just one goal along the way.
Newcastle have never lost to a Portuguese side at St James’ Park. Hopefully tomorrow isn’t a first. Our history against teams from Portugal is as follows.
1968/69 v Sporting Lisbon – 1-0 win
1968/69 v Vitoria Setubal – 5-1 win
1969/70 v FC Porto – 1-0 win
2004/05 v Sporting Lisbon – 1-1 draw
2004/05 v Sporting Lisbon – 1-0 win
Tactics and team selection…
Obviously we aren’t exactly blessed with many options right now so team selection may be quite straight forward for this one. However there are some options at least that we need to consider, those being which of our first team players should we rest and which ones should we play?
Domestically we aren’t at our fluid best so do we name as strong a team as we possibly can in the hope that those who feature in the Premier League can find a bit of form and fluidity? Or do we stick with the largely second string team that has served us so well so far in this competition so far?
Obviously there will be some first team players who play to maintain some fitness, those being Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez while players like Papiss Cisse will more than likely start in an attempt to try and get him back to some sort of form. What about players like Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa though? Protect them or use them?
I’d be tempted to stick with the team that has done enough to get us this far to be honest, with the addition of Coloccini and Gutierrez for fitness purposes and Cisse for form purposes but that is just my opinion.
The Europa League has proved to be a rare bright spot in the season so far and it would be a shame for it’s light to fade due to our failure in the league thus far. A welcome distraction? For once that may actually be the case…
Howay the lads!
Date: Thursday, 22nd November, 2012
Time: 8:05pm – Live on ESPN
Venue: St James’ Park