Benfica and Newcastle may be meeting in the Europa League on Thursday, but these two teams are moving in dramatically different directions this season.
Benfica currently sits atop the Portuguese Primeira Liga table and has yet to lose in the league this season, remaining four points clear of Porto.
Meanwhile, Newcastle's season has been nothing short of a disaster. The team is in 15th place and just three points clear of the relegation zone, a year removed from finishing fifth in the EPL.
Benfica will be the favorite coming in, but Newcastle will hope to steal a win and salvage an otherwise disastrous season. Let's take a closer look at this Europa League draw.
Where: Estadio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal
When: Thursday, April 4, at 3:05 p.m. ET
Watch: FOX Soccer 2Go
What They're Saying
In-form Benfica may be the clear favorite in this matchup, but as Newcastle manager Alan Pardew told Louise Taylor of The Guardian, he believes his side will be just fine in this matchup:
"There's never a mission impossible in football," he said. "We can get a good result here. And at St James' Park we can beat anybody. It will be difficult but we have no doubt we can beat Benfica at St James'. We overcame a very good Anzhi side, who are just as good as Benfica, in the last round."
Not that Pardew wants to be kicking off the return from a losing position—or even a goalless draw, which would mean the Portuguese side would require only a scoring draw to progress to the semi-final on away goals.
"Benfica's attacking options are varied," he said. "They have a lot of flair and their two full-backs are very progressive. They are difficult to contain. Keeping possession is going to be a key element for us but I would prefer us to score tomorrow night because, otherwise, we are going to have to defend very, very well."
Benfica Player to Watch: Oscar Cardozo
The Paraguayan forward has once again been excellent for Benfica, with 21 goals in 25 games across all competitions. He'll headline a very dangerous and clever attacking unit for the Portuguese team.
Here's a fun stat for you—Cardozo has now scored 17 goals or more for Benfica in five straight seasons. The 29-year-old is a Benfica staple at this point, and Newcastle had best know where he is on the pitch at all times.
Newcastle Player to Watch: Yohan Cabaye
When Cabaye is at his best, Newcastle can be a tricky team to deal with. The midfielder is one of the top players at his position in the Premier League, and his six goals and assist in league play don't quite do his full impact justice.
Keep in mind that four of those goals have come since January. With the departure of Demba Ba to Chelsea in the January transfer window, Cabaye is truly this team's talisman. If Newcastle is to steal a goal or earn a draw in Portugal, it will likely be behind the efforts of the Frenchman.
I don't see this game ending well for Newcastle. Benfica is a consistent, steady team capable of dominating possession and picking apart the Newcastle defense. If the England side plays on its heels the entire game, it won't end pretty.
Look for Benfica to translate its confidence from its league play into a 2-0 win.
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