Newcastle head to Portugal where they will take on Benfica at the real Stadium of Light in the Quarter Final of the Europa League tomorrow evening.
Roughly 3,800 United fans will be making the trip to Lisbon and will be right behind the boys as they try to take a positive result back to St James’ Park for the second leg.
However it’s going to be a tough ask. Benfica are currently leading the Portuguese Primeira Liga and are unbeaten in their 24 league fixtures to date. If you add in the final four games of last season that run extends to 28 matches and whilst we were floundering against Manchester City, Benfica were beating Rio Ave 6-1 in Lisbon. Remember, this is a team that dropped into the Europa League from the Champions League so it will be a tough test for sure.
Cheik Tiote and Massadio Haidara are both still out injured while Hatem Ben Arfa and Fabricio Coloccini have remained on Tyneside. Mathieu Debuchy is also sidelined but would have been unavailable anyway as he is cup tied. The latter part also applies to Yoan Gouffran after his participation in the Europa League with Bordeaux earlier on in the season.
Ryan Taylor continues to recover from injury but is still some way from featuring for the first team whilst Haris Vuckic remains a long-term absentee but in better news, Davide Santon and Tim Krul are available again and have made the squad which leaves us with a confirmed squad of 19 looking a bit like this:
Tim Krul, Rob Elliot, Davide Santon, Danny Simpson, James Perch, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Steven Taylor, Mike Williamson, Vurnon Anita, Moussa Sissoko, Yohan Cabaye, Dan Gosling, Sylvain Marveaux, Gabriel Obertan, Jonas Gutierrez, Gael Bigirimana, Papiss Cisse, Shola Ameobi, Adam Campbell
We’ve never played Benfica in a competitive game before so it’s another first for us. We have played them twice in friendly matches before though (won one and lost one on penalties) but instead I’m going to look at how we’ve fared against Portuguese opposition as a whole.
You can split our record in two pretty much. We’ve never won on Portuguese soil and we’ve never lost to Portuguese opposition on home soil. At St James’ Park we’ve played six games against Portuguese opposition, winning four and drawing two. We’ve played in Portugal five times as things stand winning one, losing one and drawing three.
Stats and facts:
Mike Williamson is still waiting to make his 100th appearance for United whilst an appearance for Shola Ameobi will signal his half-century of appearances for Newcastle in European competition.
If we manage to keep a clean sheet we will set a new record for games without conceding a goal. Currently we’ve not conceded in four games, and by extending that to five we’ll set a new Europa League record.
To expand on that, United have kept 8 clean sheets in their 12 (including qualifying) Europa League games to date.
It’s going to be a tough one but in a way I’m looking forward to it. The most important thing for us to do is to make sure we leave ourselves in a position to go through when the two sides meet at St James’ Park. If the game is out of sight by the end of tomorrow night then it makes the second leg pointless so we need to keep things tight and try to sneak an away goal if we can.
We’ll need to be measured, we can’t just do what some fans would like to see and go out and attack as we’ll just leave ourselves wide open in defence. Keep calm, keep things tight for the opening 20 minutes and feel our way into the game. Conceding an early goal would be a bad thing so it’s important to wake up right from the first whistle and maintain focus throughout.
Howay the lads!
Date: Thursday, 4th April, 2013
Time: 8:05pm – Live on ITV4
Venue: Estádio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal