Thursday brings a return to Europa League action for our Magpie heroes as they travel across the channel to meet Club Brugge in their third match of the group stage. Club Brugge enter this match standing third place in Group D, having dropped their initial match 4-0 at Bordeaux then following that up with a 2-0 defeat of Maritimo at the Breydelstadion in Brussels. A victory in the match for Newcastle would leave the Toon with a tidy 7 points from the first three matches of the group stage.
Statistically speaking, Club Brugge are a markedly different team on their home pitch. They are undefeated this year at the Breydelstadion and have no trouble banging in the goals in front of their home crowd. In fact, they average 3 goals per game at home significantly higher than their average goal haul of 1.8 per match on the road. In contrast, Newcastle United are averaging a healthy 1.0 goals per match on the road. Whereas the book on Club Brugge around this time last year was that you could find space and goals behind their defense, the story this year seems to be slightly less encouraging for the Newcastle attack where Brugge are conceding right at 1 goal per match at home. Perhaps interestingly, Xisco is averaging 3.0 goals per match for the reserves this week. It will be critical for Newcastle United to not concede early to Brugge (their average first score this season at home comes after only 8 minutes), but even more important will be to not allow them to get to halftime with the lead. When they are leading at half time, the Belgian side have not gone on to lose the match even a single time over their last 20 matches played. They have only dropped points in any manner once after having the lead at half time. The danger man for Club Brugge is their 25-year old Colombian striker Carlos Bacca who has scored 9 goals in 8 league appearances (7 starts and 1 substitute) while Israeli midfielder Lior Refaelov has added 5 goals in his 7 appearances.
A lot of this match is going to hinge upon which Newcastle United makes it across the channel. In their Europa League defeat at Bordeaux, the French side were able to do several things to Brugge that Newcastle United could capitalize upon as well if they are playing at top of their offensive game. Bordeaux were able to counter attack effectively. They were able to provide effective service to their strikers through long-balls from midfield. They were able to unlock the defense with crafty through balls a la Yohan Cabaye. They were able to find space on the wings in the attacking third. Each of these are things that Newcastle could and should be able to do if they are playing the way that we know we can. The quest still is for consistency, so there is no guarantee that any of these things will happen for the Toon. The pessimist among us will anticipate another 0-0 road draw like we took away from Portugal which would certainly not be the end of the world - but the closer we get to the end of the year, the more we can do to make some of the later matches matter less (and allow us to play more youngsters, etc.), the better off we will be in the League.