Hoping to get their weekend blip out of their system, Belgian league leaders Club Brugge make their way to Tyneside for their biggest European clash in some time. James Williams tells more of the Toon Army…
Club Brugge will become the fourth Belgian side to cross paths with Newcastle United, and will hope to fare better than the previous three of Royal Antwerp, Sporting Lokeren and Zulte Waregem, with the English side aggregate winners 19-3 over six games.
Newcastle approach this game after drawing 1-1 with fierce rivals Sunderland. In a match that was billed as a chance for both sides to kick start their seasons, United will be the happier of the two with goalkeeper Tim Krul and captain Fabricio Coloccini returning after recent injury layoffs. In addition to that French playmaker Yohan Cabaye is starting to find the form that made him such an influential force in the Magpies run to 5th position last season.
In a campaign that probably surprised most Newcastle fans as well as everyone else, United lined up against Everton on the final day of the season with the chance of qualifying for the Champions League, but after a defeat and results not going their way, they still celebrated a return to Europe having guaranteed Europa League football with a couple of games to spare.
As the season approached it became clear that the fans were more excited about a return to Europe than the management who stated that league position would be the main focus and UEFA’s secondary competition would be used to give squad players and youngsters a run out.
After toiling against Greek side Atromitos, Newcastle were drawn in a relatively drama free group, avoiding the big hitters of Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid and Marseille and also far flung destinations in Russia, Israel and Azerbaijan. After facing Club Brugge at home, United will travel to Belgium two weeks later, and it is this game that gives the Toon Army the first real chance to travel in numbers, with the away games against Atromitos and Maritimo logistical nightmare for the fans.
Alan Pardew has been true to his word, mixing up team selection and utilizing first team fringe players and a number of the promising youngsters he has at his disposal. After four games, what has become more apparent is the fact that Pardew seems happier to use some of his big hitters in the home games with Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabate and Papiss Cisse starting in the 3-0 home win over Bordeaux. Prior to that Tim Krul, Coloccini and Demba Ba all played 90 minutes against Atromitos at St James’ Park.
Sandwiched between the Tyne & Wear derby and a winnable home game against West Brom, Pardew is again expected to shuffle his pack, with Coloccini doubtful after going off with cramp and Krul likely to be despite having a relatively quiet game against Sunderland. The local press have suggested that one player who may now feature is Cheick Tiote given that he is facing a three game domestic ban following his sending off. He may be joined in midfield by Dan Gosling who has featured heavily in United’s European games so far. Steven Taylor and Papiss Cisse may well get game time as well after being named on the bench against Sunderland. Injury rules out Slovenian youngster Haris Vuckic, but the likes of Gael Bigirimana, Romain Amalfitano, Sylvain Marveaux and Gabriel Obertan will all be competing for a place in midfield.
Up front Pardew may well rest Demba Ba after the Senegalese played the tiring lone striker role for more than an hour at the weekend. Cisse may well be joined up top by Shola Ameobi who was sacrificed to give United more shape following Tiote’s sending off.
One area where Newcastle are a little short of options is in defence, with James Tavernier the only candidate to come in, unless Pardew decides to give Northern Irishman Shane Ferguson a run out at left back.
Newcastle will hope to build on their win over Bordeaux and will be targeting a minimum of four points from the two games against Club Brugge, especially after seeing how Bordeaux fared against the Belgians in the opening group game.
With estimates putting the number of Newcastle fans travelling to Brugge anywhere between 5,000 and 16,000 (the higher figure coming from the Brugge Tourst Board), United will see this as a chance to make more footballing friends on the continent, and any Club Brugge fans travelling to Tyneside this week will be afforded a genuine warm welcome.
STOP PRESS: Xisco scored a hattrick for the Toon second string on Monday night, potentially forcing his way in to the match day squad. To say the Spaniard has been a flop on Tyneside would be an understatement, but Pardew is known to give a chance to those putting the work in, as shown a couple of years ago when he gave the much maligned Leon Best a starting berth and was rewarded with Best bagging a hattrick. Watch this space…
EDITOR”S VIEW ON CLUB BRUGGE
After a horror show in Bordeaux, where Georges Leekens’ men managed to have one shot and concede, Club Brugge responded well in Matchday Two recording an impressive win over Portuguese club Maritimo. The man of the match that day was Colombian Carlos Bacca, showing deft skill and was the glimmer of quality in that game. So much so he managed to get a national team callup. He’s doubtful for this game and could be sorely missed. Others not making the trip across the North Sea include rugged centre-back Michael Almeback, former WBA defender Ryan Donk and Meme Tchite. Club Brugge will probably be happy to get out of Newcastle with a point, and this game should be relatively straight forward for Pardew. Well if he plays the strongest lineup available.