Newcastle United host Maritimo Thursday in Europa League Group D action which could see them advance to the knockout stage. When these teams last met, they finished in a 0-0 draw. It was a disappointing result for the Magpies, but fans took solace in the fact that they hit the bar twice while fielding a second-choice team.
Toon Army Turnout?
Attendance for Europa matches has been subpar by SJP standards, at 30 to 35 thousand a match. League form has dipped, as we are well aware, so will the turnout suffer even further? The opponent doesn't help. A total of 5 goals have been scored in Maritimo's four group play matches, and both teams failed to score in the reverse fixture. Still, whatever they draw will be better than the 4,000 that showed up in Portugal, thanks mostly to stadium construction that left an entire half of the stadium empty. Will that be a good thing? If Newcastle can't jump out to an early lead, the crowd may just turn on them.
The Toon sit on top of Group D, so naturally their destiny is in their own hands. There are a number of scenarios that will result in advancement to the knockout stage. Even if things go terribly wrong, they'll still be able to secure a spot in the next fixture. It would be nice to clinch early and have the luxury of taking the December 6 fixture in Bordeaux easy, since they'll play Fulham at Craven Cottage just four days later.
Because Club Brugge are four points behind, they need to better Newcastle's result to stay in the running. A Newcastle win is an automatic in, and a draw forces the Belgian side to defeat Bordeaux outright. The most exciting pair of results for the neutral would be Maritimo and Club Brugge victories, putting the point totals at 8, 7, 7, and 5. If goal differential ends up being a deciding factor, both Newcastle and Bordeaux own significant advantages. In the end, there's no good reason that NUFC shouldn't advance. It's more a question of whether or not they'll be able to take care of business this week.
Several players that didn't play against Swansea are ostensibly available this time out. Fabricio Coloccini still has a game left in his domestic suspension, so there's no reason he shouldn't feature. Alan Pardew has specifically said that he'd like to involve Jonas Gutierrez, who is returning from injury. Papiss Cisse is eligible, but I can't make heads or tails of the erratic usage of the strikers anyhow. Meanwhile, there has been speculation that one or both of the Ameobi brothers will receive a spot in the XI.
Since several of the "regulars" seem locks to play, I'd expect the fringe players at the other positions to receive opportunities. Perhaps something like this:
Elliot | Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Ferguson | Obertan, Anita, Bigirimana, Jonas | Cisse, Shola
This one is more of a guessing game than normal. How do you see it?
Be sure and check out our prior profile of Maritimo for a look at the opposition and what they offer.