Newcastle continue their Europa League adventure by travelling to Russia to take on Anzhi Makhachkala in this Round of 16 tie.
The venue should have been the 30,000 capacity Dynamo Stadium in Makhachkala but due to armed conflict in the Dagestan region of Russia UEFA have banned Anzhi from playing their home games at home and alternative venues have been used.
The venues in question have all been in Moscow with the 28,800 Lokomotiv Stadium being used for the group stage of the competition before a switch to the larger 78,000 capacity Luzhniki Stadium for the knockout rounds. Playing “home” games 1,000 miles away from home appears to be an issue for the fans – only 12,000 were present to watch the victory over Bundesliga side Hanover – but it doesn’t appear to be an issue for the players who have a 100% record on “home” soil in the Europa League with six clean sheets in seven games and just one goal conceded so far.
Like us, Anzhi finished as runners up in their group behind Liverpool who have now exited the competition. Bankrolled by Russian billionaire Suleyman Kerimov and with former Brazil defender Roberto Carlos as Director of Football working with Guss Hiddink at a coaching level, Anzhi have spent over £150 million since the start of 2011 which has allowed them to sign players like Samuel Eto’o, who earns a reported £350,000 a week.
Papiss Cisse could miss the game with an illness. These illnesses seem to crop up for a lot of Europa League matches. Fabricio Coloccini is out as is Tim Krul, Haris Vuckic and Ryan Taylor remain sidelined while Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran are ineligible for this competition.
Dan Gosling is available for selection but the biggest news is that Hatem Ben Arfa could make his return after being left out against Swansea although I suspect we’ll see Benny brought off the bench after so long out.
There is no history between the two sides and this will constitute as the first competitive game between the two clubs. Anzhi are currently 2nd in the Russian Premier League and, like Metalist Kharkiv, are on a winter break which is scheduled to end after this game but before the return leg at St James’ Park. They too have been keeping in shape via a series of training camps and friendly matches.
Stats and facts:
Mike Williamson will make his 100th appearance for United if he gets called into action either as unlikely starter or as a substitute.
Shola Ameobi will go looking for his 16th European goal for United. He’s miles behind Alan Shearer who notched 30 continental goals for Newcastle but it’s still not a bad contribution from the Mackem slayer.
This will be our 131st European game. To date we’ve won 73 games, lost 30 and drawn the other 27 matches.
The game will be played on a plastic pitch – or artificial surface as they are known these days and United have never won on such a surface having played on it at Luton, QPR and Oldham previously.
Who to watch:
You have to look at the Anzhi attack and start to worry. Expensively assembled they may be but they do the job and score goals. In fact they’ve already notched 26 times compared to United’s 10 (and that includes the qualifying rounds!) so we need to be wary.
Samuel Eto’o is well known. Pace, power, accuracy and a CV that many a player would be proud of including League titles and Champions League winners medals, but he isn’t the only avenue of attack for Anzhi. How about Lacina Traoré, the 6′ 8″ Ivory Coast striker who has scored five goals in the Europa League to add to the nine Eto’o has contributed.
Behind them they have highly-rated Brazilian playmaker Willian who recently signed from Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk and can provide the bullets for the two strikers to fire and you can start to understand why they score goals. The focus is clearly on attack with the Russians hence the signing of Willian rather than the replacing of Chris Samba who left Anzhi in January.
That’s not to say they didn’t boost their defensive ranks as Bosnian Emir Spahić was brought in on loan from Sevilla, and with former Real Madrid defensive midfielder Lassana Diarra patrolling in front of the back four don’t expect Anzhi to be too shabby at the back either!
I’m still very mindful of our need for Premier League points and have generally been quite negative about our participation in this competition. But you know what? Stuff it, we won’t get this chance again next season unless we win the damn thing so why not go for it!
To get through we’re going to need an away goal for sure in my opinion. A narrow defeat is not the end of the world providing we get an away goal which as highlighted previously is going to be a tough ask. I don’t buy this “mid-season break” stuff meaning that they are going to to be tired. They’ll be ready and up for this and with Guss Hiddink guiding them it will be a tough ask.
All we can do is give it our best shot and as long as we’ve given that I’ll be happy. We can’t ask for much more so go on lads, give it all you’ve got!
Howay the lads!
Date: Thursday, 7th March, 2013
Time: 5pm UK time – An early start live on ITV4 so don’t forget!
Venue: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow