Newcastle United host Benfica at the St James’ Park tonight in the 2nd leg of their Europa League quarter final tie. The first leg fixture started well for the Geordies, as Papiss Cisse opened the scoring with a goal in the 12th minute of the match. But from then, it all went downhill, as Benfica stamped their authority in the match and ended up scoring three goals, with Cardozo, Lima and Rodrigo getting on the score sheet. In truth it could have been worse for Newcastle as Benfica squandered a lot of chances. But despite trailing by two goals, the away goal has given them a glimmer of a hope of making a comeback at their home turf.
Newcastle United come into this match on the back of a 1-0 victory of Fulham, thanks to Cisse’s late winner. Incidentally, it was their first clean sheet in the league since January. But that win against Fulham, their first victory after losing three games in a row, was a hugely significant one as it has helped them rise up the table and pull clear of the relegation zone. Despite their wonderful run in the Europa league, safety in the Premier League still remains their priority.
But Newcastle’s home form has been good recently. The Magpies are undefeated in their last six home matches – winning five of them. In fact they are yet to lose at home in a Europa League fixture this season. But goal scoring has been a problem for them; Alan Pardew’s men have scored only three goals in their four Europa League matches at the St James’ Park. So Cisse’s form will be crucial in their match against Benfica.
When one goes over the stats of Benfica this season, the only word that comes to their mind is – incredible. They are undefeated in their domestic league so far, in fact they have lost only thrice this season – twice in the Champions league against Barcelona and Spartak Moscow and the last defeat came against Braga in the Carlsberg cup. Though they were knocked out in the group stages of the Champions League, they have so far won all of their five matches in the Europa League.
Jorge Jesus’ team has also been in fine goal scoring form lately, having scored 22 goals in their last six matches in all competitions. Cardozo and Lima have scored 30 goals between themselves in the league. They have a formed a brilliant partnership upfront and they have a young Rodrigo as an option as well. They come into this match on the back of a 2-0 victory over Olhanense last weekend. But despite such incredible form in the league they are leading the table by just four points as Porto have been unbeaten so far as well.
Benfica will go into this match as the favorites to progress into the next round. They are one of the favorites to win the tournament this season – that is unless Newcastle have a surprise in store for us.
Alan Pardew has to contain with a big injury list at the moment. Fabricio Coloccini, Davide Santon, Mathieu Debuchy, Haris Vuckic and Cheick Tiote are all out of this fixture due to injuries. Stevan Taylor is the latest addition to the injury list and now Newcastle will face a big issue in forming a back four against Benfica. Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran are also ineligible for this match, which means there will be lot of changes to the starting line-up that was fielded against Fulham in the weekend.
Davide Santon will be replaced by Haidara in the left-back spot, while Michael Williamson will replace Steven Taylor at the center of the defence. Gouffran, who started against Fulham, will be replaced by Obertan. The good news for Newcastle United fans is that Ben Arfa, who was earlier feared to be out for the rest of the season, has recovered sooner than expected and can be present on the bench.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1) – Krul (GK); Haidara, Yanga-Mbiwa, Williamson, Simpson; Marveaux; Obertan, Sissoko, Gutierrez; Cisse.
Jorge Jesus, unlike Alan Pardew, doesn’t have any major injury concerns to worry about presently. Eduardo Salvio remains a doubt after picking up injuries before the first leg of this fixture. The only major concern that the manager has is whom to pick from a talented squad that he has at his disposal presently. The trio of Cardozo, Lima and Rodrigo have all been in fine form recently, but only two of them will start against Newcastle. Lima is expected to start from the bench in this match.
The other choice that Jorge Jesus has to make is whether to start Enzo Perez, who started at the weekend, or Andre Gomes, who started in the first leg, in the midfield alongside Nemanja Matic.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-4-2) – Moraes (GK); Almeida, Garay, Luisao, Malgarejo; John, Perez, Matic, Gaitan; Rodrigo, Cardozo.
Newcastle United 1-2 Benfica
Benfica will start as the favorites considering their form and also the amount of first team players that Newcastle are missing for this match. This should be a closely fought match in comparison to the one that took place in Portugal, simply because Newcastle will be pushed by the fantastic home support, but Benfica have more quality on the pitch. The Portuguese side should win this match along with the tie.