Newcastle’s victory over Fulham at the weekend was a large step towards guaranteed Premier League survival, although many will feel the limitations of their relegation rivals already makes this a formality, so Alan Pardew should be willing to gamble on some of his half-fit squad members for a must-win European tie. Newcastle’s injury list remains extensive, but Cheick Tiote may be risked in midfield alongside Yohan Cabaye and Massadio Haidara should come in at full back. With Yoan Gouffran cup-tied Jonas Gutierrez and Sylvain Marveaux are likely to play out wide.
Jorge Jesus has no such problems, meaning Benfica can name an unchanged side from the first leg, although Lima may push Rodrigo for a place in attack.
In a battle of two fairly traditional 4-4-2 variations the tie is likely to be decided between the lines and by the depth of the respective midfields… (Read more)
European competition is often used as a measure of a league’s strength. Champions Manchester City’s early exit in the Champions League didn’t bode well for the Premier League’s claim to be the world’s best, and other clubs have done little to dispel this as anything other than a myth. Manchester United defied doubters to avoid defeat away to Real Madrid and Tottenham secured the draw required to seal an aggregate victory against a competitive Lyon side, but Newcastle and Chelsea laboured against moderate opposition. Liverpool fought in vain to overturn a first leg deficit against Zenit St. Petersburg, whilst Arsenal were utterly outclassed by Bayern Munich… (Read more)
Two teams looking to build around a new central midfielder for the remainder of the season. Tottenham’s decision to sign Lewis Holtby six months ahead of schedule was influenced by the loss of Sandro to injury, but in reality he will offer a more natural fit as a central playmaker than either Clint Dempsey or Gylfi Sigurdsson. Newcastle also signed Moussa Sissoko before his contract expired in the summer and his two games in an advanced midfield position have inspired Alan Pardew’s side to two victories. Both teams play a 4-2-3-1 variation, although the ambition of the managers and the identity of the players involved makes Tottenham’s shape closer to a 4-2-1-3 compared to Newcastle’s 4-4-1-1. The difference may seem trivial but it creates an interesting tactical match up… (Read more)
Transfer activity is often a fascinating way to identify a teams’ tactical ambition as a club’s transfer policy is dependent on the manager’s approach. A systemic manager’s priority is to sign players that are better adapted to their style of play, and thus improves the strength of the team not necessarily by signing better quality players, but by signing better fitting players. An adaptable manager is less focused on tactical suitability as they are happier modifying their game-plan to suit the players at their disposal, and therefore can use the transfer market solely to improve the quality of the squad. In reality few managers are strictly one or the other and tend to be a mixture of the two, but the contrasts were still evident in the January transfer window… (Read more)
Since the departure of Demba Ba to Chelsea, all the focus at Newcastle has been on which striker Alan Pardew will bring in to replace his top scorer. Yet Ba has been at the centre of a twelve month power struggle in the Newcastle attack that has threatened to imbalance the team’s shape, and his departure could allow Pardew to restructure the system… (Read more)
After an excellent campaign last year Alan Pardew has to decide whether to stick with the system that proved so successful or make changes to get the best out of his Senegalese forward pairing. Pardew’s Newcastle team started the season playing an organised 4-4-2 formation with two wingers supplying a two man forward line including Demba Ba, who scored fifteen goals in the first nineteen league games. However, following the signing of Papiss Cisse in January Pardew switched the team to a 4-3-3 system, playing the new recruit through the centre and moving Ba wide left. While Cisse went on to score thirteen times in fourteen games, Ba netted only once more in fifteen appearances… (Read more)