Newcastle United vs Benfica: Europa League Quarter-Final Preview and Projected Line-Ups

Moussa Sissoko of Newcastle (Flickr Creative Commons)

Moussa Sissoko of Newcastle (Flickr Creative Commons)

Uplifted by a last-minute winner versus Fulham that all but guarantees Newcastle’s Premier League status next season, Alan Pardew’s side attempt to overturn a 3-1 deficit to Benfica at St James’ Park on Thursday night. Having scored first in the Estadio da Luz last week and grabbed an all-important away goal, Newcastle must win by at least 2-0 to ensure passage to the semi-finals of the competition. After Benfica’s impressive attacking display in the first leg, Jorge Jesus’ men will be out to score an away goal or two of their own to put the tie beyond Newcastle. If they manage it then Newcastle will require at least three or four goals. Every week on ‘Match of the Day’, Geordie legend striker Alan Shearer mentions teams that “should have gone on to score 4, 5 or 6” when discussing match highlights yet his former side will be attempting to keep their task down to its 2-0 minimum.

Benfica’s last result was a 2-0 away win at Olhanense with goals from Eduardo Salvio and Nemanja Matic to maintain their four point lead at the top of the Primeira Liga over Porto. It’s now an outstanding 12 wins in a row for the Lisbon side yet will it be unlucky 13 against Newcastle?

In the first leg, Benfica looked vulnerable at the back against the Newcastle front-line. Papiss Cisse opened the scoring in the 12th minute and could have added a second when he hit the post before Rodrigo equalized. Newcastle were on the back foot for long periods and hanging on at times yet ultimately, the second and third goals conceded were forced errors rather than great Benfica attacking play. Cisse hit the post again in the second half, mirroring the luck he had against Metalist when he had two goals wrongly disallowed for offside yet this tie is still very much alive.

Tim Krul made some outstanding saves to keep the score line respectable and will start again in goal after keeping The Magpies’ first Premier League clean sheet since January against Fulham. Santon, whose hospital back pass led directly to Lima’s second goal, was carried off with a hamstring injury on Sunday and will be replaced at left-back by the returning Massadio Haidara or Jonas Gutierrez who is in great form at the moment. Steven Taylor is a doubt so could be replaced by James Perch and Mapou Yanga-M’biwa will patrol the centre of defence again and Danny Simpson, also a man in form, will start at right-back.

Vurnon Anita will most likely join Yohan Cabaye in the centre of midfield, perhaps with Jonas Gutierrez or Moussa Sissoko alongside them in a new-look three in midfield. Sylvain Marveaux, who was excellent on Sunday, will operate either on the left of a 4-4-2 with Sissoko on the right or as the third man in the attacking three as the link between midfield and attack. It is in the attacking positions that Alan Pardew will have his most difficult decisions to make. Papiss Cisse will start centrally and Shola Ameobi who has a knack of scoring vital goals for his club on big occasions could feature alongside him in a 4-4-2 similar to the one that beat Man U 3-0 last January or in the type of 4-3-3 that decimated Bordeaux 3-0 in October.

Hatem Ben Arfa, back n full training, could make the ultimate surprise return as he did against Spurs on the opening day of the season, popping up to run the game and score the winner.

Alan Pardew has urged patience from the Newcastle crowd rather than expectation of all-out attack in search of recovering the 2-goal deficit. An early goal, however, and expectation levels will rise of potentially ushering in one of the great European nights at St James’ Park up there with the 3-2 Tino Asprilla hat-trick victory over Barcelona in The Champions League in 1997. The Lisbon press warned Alan Pardew and Newcastle before the first leg that they were “burnt steak” after comments suggesting Benfica couldn’t compete at the top end of The Premier League. In tomorrow’s white-hot atmosphere at St James’ Park, it could be Benfica that gets roasted.

Prediction: 3-0 Newcastle

Newcastle: (4-3-2-1) – Krul; Simpson, Perch, Yanga-M’biwa, Gutierrez; Anita, Cabaye, Sissoko; Marveaux, Ben Arfa; Cisse.

Benfica: (4-2-3-1) - Benfica – (4-1-3-2) Artur; Perreira, Luisao, Garay, Melgarejo; Perez,  Matic; Silva, Gaitan, Lima; Rodrigo.

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