Newcastle United and 47 other clubs will participate in the Europa League Group Stage draw in just 5 short hours, and we've set out to preview the 34 clubs that the Magpies could be drawn against. What follows is a very brief profile of each team, organized by pot.
Helsingborgs last qualified for the Champions League in 2000-01, and they came close this year, but were knocked out by Fraser Forster and Celtic last weekend, pushing them down to Europa. They won the Swedish treble last season and seem to be on their way up. I wouldn't necessarily be afraid of them, but there are much worse teams in this pot, as we'll soon see.
Maritimo are a relatively young team who finished 5th last year. They routinely finish around that spot in the table because they beat the teams they're supposed to, but they lost all 6 matches against the top three in the league last season. Recent evidence seems to suggest that they're not the best candidate to play "giant killer," and they don't have any scary names in the squad.
The kind of team that will play you to a 0-0 draw without thinking twice about it. Their new #9 is American prospect Terrence Boyd, who can do this.
Academica de Coimbra finished 13th in Primeira Liga last season, just two spots above the drop zone, but their Taca de Portugal win sent them straight to this Group Stage. They scored less than a goal a game and went on a 16 game winless streak at one point.
They've been splashing the cash over the last year or so thanks to new ownership, and for a team that placed 5th in the Russian Premier League last season, they've got a pretty salty roster, highlighted by Samuel Eto'o, Christopher Samba, and Joao Carlos, among others.
As Marcos Tavares goes, so goes Maribor, and Marcos Tavares is usually on point. Teams from places like Slovenia that have one good player can usually do well in their league, but if a Premier League team can't shut down one guy, what good are they?
AIK Stockholm have played 20 league matches so far in 2012, and 6 of them have been 1-0 victories (4 of those away from home). They've only conceded 18 goals thus far. Mohamed Bangura has helped return them back to prominence, though countryman Teteh Bangura (no relation, strangely enough) has since departed. A trip to Stockholm might be nice, but the Magpies might not return with the victory they would require from the pot four team.
AEL qualified for Europa after winning their first Cyprus First Division title in 44 years, conceding just 10 goals in 32 matches. They were led in scoring by 26 year-old Ivorian Vouho, who netted 9 goals. Score once against these guys and you're likely to hold on for a victory.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona
Another Israeli team handicapped by their foreign player rule, though Argentine David Solari has done relatively well for them in 2012, scoring 5 times in 15 appearances. They're a new club, started in 2000, and they've risen to prominence in the Israeli Premier League rather fast, winning their first title last year. Perhaps one day they'll make a splash on the European scene, but that's unlikely to happen this time out.
Molde have seemingly always been the second fiddle to Rosenborg, at least until they won the league last season. Ole Soderberg now plies his trade with MFK and from what I can tell has been playing as the number 1 in league play. Their location in southern Norway is relatively close to Newcastle and the weather would seem to be ideal.
Defeated Trabzonspor on penalties yesterday in rather dramatic fashion. They have the smell of a team with absolutely nothing to lose, which can be dangerous. They have way more international players than you might expect from a club of their caliber. I have no rational reason for fearing this club, but something tells me Newcastle would be better off staying away (as if they have a say in the matter). Call it a stupid hunch.
The Cinderella team. No Azerbaijani team has ever made it this far, so there's no doubt they're just happy to be here. This is another team with an inexplicable amount of Brazilians. They wear black and white stripes, so maybe we can all get together and sing Kum-ba-yah or something. Playing this team would be just fine, but again travel concerns take a front seat.
When it comes to the fourth pot it's less about drawing the right team than avoiding the wrong one. Anzhi Makhachkala seems the obvious wild card, but I also wouldn't be sad about missing Rapid Wien and AIK. Though it's hard to nail down what the best case scenario would be, Academica look ripe for the picking.