The Europa League can be seen as a poisoned chalice by some. Just how far down the ladder of fans concern Europe’s second competition is could be seen when Manchester United supporters almost breathed a sigh of relief when the Red Devils were knocked out of the competition. Now we can concentrate on what’s really important, the Premier League, they said.
The Europa league can also be the graveyard of Premier League ambitions. Stoke and Fulham both finished lower in the league because of the added fatigue and injuries brought about by an extended season.
However in Newcastle’s case, it’s not Europe that I’m worried about. I’m worried about Africa.
The African Cup of Nations comes around every year and brings with it its own unique set of questions. How will we cover missing players? Will we need to bring in extra faces during January? How will the missing players affect our team?
For the Magpies, Europe and AFCON could combine to create a perfect storm of missing key players, injuries and fatigue. And could, potentially, destroy a season.
An important core of the side will be missing, with Cisse, Ba and Tiote all expected to be called up by their respective nations, Senegal and the Ivory Coast. While Alan Pardew is keen to blood youngsters Ferguson, Ameobi and Vuckic, it still remains to be seen whether they can be effective in the Europa League and good enough cover for the AFCON.
One of the players who will be called upon when Tiote departs is Dan Gosling. Certainly, this is a make or break season for the 22-year-old, who only managed a handful of appearances for Newcastle last year, due in part to his horrible injury record. Another injury prone midfielder, Marveaux, will be able to use the Europa League to stake his claim for a regular starting slot in Newcastle’s XI. The wide midfielder from Rennes missed large amounts of last season with a groin injury.
Newcastle has the right combination of fringe players and up-and-coming youngsters to be able to survive a Europe campaign, but the lack of cover for the strikers and central midfield is worrying. Shola Ameobi may be a great many things, but a goal scorer he is not. He’s only scored 50 goals in over 260 appearances for the Magpies, at a goal per game ratio of 0.18. And if you don’t score goals, you can’t win games. Both Ba and Cisse will be missing due to their national commitments, so both the Ameobi’s will have to step up, along with the strikeR cover that Pardew is looking at signing, currently Luuk de Jong from FC Twente.
The Toon midfield is also one injury away from dropping from good to just adequate. With Guthrie leaving on a free transfer, that leaves Gosling and possibly Perch as cover from the senior players, with a relatively untested Vuckic waiting in the wings. Further midfield reinforcements are surely needed if Newcastle is going to mount a successful European campaign and build on their wonderful 5th place finish from last year.