The round of 32 and round of 16 draws are now complete for Europe's other competition and Alan Pardew now knows that he and his squad will be making the 2594 km trip to Kharkiv to face Metalist. This will certainly mean rearranging Newcastle's league match immediately following the second leg which will be played in Kharkiv. From Robert's excellent draw preview yesterday:
Distance from SJP: 2594 km
From the group stage preview: They don't possess the most rabid fanbase in this pot, but the supporters of this club were a big part of the reason folks were worried about racism and hooliganism at this summer's Euro. It's also a team full of Brazilians, making me wonder if I've all of a sudden stepped back into the early 90s. They've got a high coefficient because they did especially well in this competition a few years ago, but they're just not the same team anymore.
League form: Metalist, along with Dnipro Dnipro and Dynamo, are in a dogfight for second place and a berth in next year's Champions League. It is unlikely that any of these three will catch runaway leader Shakhtar, who have an amazing +43 goal differential through 18 games. For their part, Metalist are equally formidable on the road (5-2-2) as they are at home (5-1-2).
The Europa League so far: Metalist faced Dinamo Bucharest in the play-off round, defeating them 4-1 on the strength of two Jonathan Cristaldo goals. He would add one more in the group stage, but he was upstaged by Cleiton Xavier. Xavier scored four goals, all of them after the 70th minute. They won Group K thanks to head-to-head record against Bayer Leverkusen.
The Bottom Line: Their preoccupation with league position will only help their opponents in this round, and the late nature of most of their goals in the last round makes me wonder if their run of good luck is sustainable.
Although it seems like there could have been tougher draws competition-wise (though Metalist are certainly no push-overs), the travel strain on an already struggling squad could only have been worse had we drawn Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk or Olympiacos or Rubin Kazan or Fenerbahce, I suppose. At a certain point distance traveled is distance traveled, though.
Also happening today was the pairing of the Round of 32 winners into a draw for the Round of 16 in which Newcastle would, if they progress, face the winner of Anzhi v. Hannover. So far as the travel goes, you would kind of hope for Hannover to come through that match, but it's just as likely that if Newcastle make it past Kharkiv that they'll have a return trip to Russia on the cards to visit Roberto Carlos.
I suppose not all is lost, however, because as we know there is money over there in Russia, so maybe Graham Carr can scout an investor that would be willing to pour money into our squad a la Chelski. I suppose this is a pipe dream, however.. perhaps much like any hope of progressing through these two rounds and keeping the squad fresh enough to recover from a torrid first half of the Premier League season.