Newcastle United face a tough task on Thursday as they play host to Benfica in the second leg of the Europa League Quarterfinal tie. Newcastle trail 3-1 on aggregate. Papiss Cisse's 12th minute goal in Portugal could be huge. Because of the away goals rule, a 2-0 result will see Newcastle through.
There are reasons to be skeptical that the Magpies can do this, however. Benfica controlled long stretches of the first leg, and made Tim Krul a very busy goalkeeper in his first game back in six weeks. The Portugese side directed 9 shots on target, and were awarded 12 corner kicks. Even though Benfica held possession only 51% of the time, it seemed much greater than that. It may be said that Newcastle were lucky to escape with a 1-3 loss. Newcastle will have to make sure and keep Cardoza and Lima in check, as the two have combined for 53 goals on the season, including two in the first leg. It's a stat that's been shared over and over, but it bears repeating to indicate how big of a task Newcastle have defensively: Benfica have scored over 100 goals this season.
And yet, there's reasons for optimism. Krul, as stated before, played an outstanding match. If Davide Santon isn't so careless with a backpass, who knows what the result may be. Benfica's third goal came from the penalty spot. If Newcastle play smart and eliminate mistakes, they have a chance. It seems like a common sense approach, but the Magpies were the cause of their undoing a week ago.
In addition, Cisse hit the post twice in that match. Newcastle were able to find space in Benfica's back line. Needing to chase a 2-0 result, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a similar line-up and formation as the one used against Fulham on the weekend. Unfortunately for Newcastle, Yoan Gouffran is ineligible for the match. The Frenchmen looked dangerous against Fulham and his creativity will be missed on Thursday. However, Newcastle have shown they can break through Benfica's usually stout defense. It may be a matter of a good bounce or a player continuing a run through the box to help the Mags get the needed result.
Injury woes still leave some doubts for Newcastle. Keeping a clean sheet against Benfica might be a surer bet with Fabrico Coloccini in the back, but he is still out. Also out with injuries are Santon and Cheick Tiote. Hatem Ben Arfa though is expected to make the 18, as he'll return to the bench.
One other factor may benefit Newcastle in this match. Tyneside, still buzzing from Cisse's last-minute winner on Sunday, has sold out St. James' Park. The atmosphere should be electric, and should Newcastle find momentum, the crowd can help lift them. Benfica benefited from great atmosphere in their home leg, now the Newcastle faithful have their chance to lift the home side.
And finally, even though 2-0 is a tall order, especially with Benfica's offensive fire power, the football world delivered a huge reminder this week that anything is possible. Dortmund scored twice in stoppage time in their Champion's League tie against Malaga. On their home turf, the Germans looked done for, but they still prevailed.
90 minutes is a long time. 2-0 is hard, but not impossible. This roller coaster season for Newcastle may have a few more twists and turns in her yet.