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Newcastle face Champions League reality check

By AFP - Nov 27,2023 - Last updated at Nov 27,2023

Paris Saint-Germain’s Portuguese midfielder #17 Vitinha (centre) attends a training session in Poissy, west of Paris, on Monday, on the eve of the UEFA Champions League football match against Newcastle (AFP photo)

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom — Newcastle must overcome the might of Paris Saint-Germain and a mounting injury list if the Magpies’ first foray into the Champions League for 20 years is not to come to a premature end on Tuesday.

Damaging back-to-back defeats to Borussia Dortmund have left Eddie Howe’s men sitting bottom of a devilishly difficult Group F, also featuring last season’s semi-finalists AC Milan.

Newcastle must avoid defeat in the French capital to have any chance of reaching the last 16.

Qualification looked well within the grasp of Howe’s side when they hunbled PSG 4-1 on Tyneside in October.

But things have since unravelled for Newcastle as an injury crisis has taken its toll despite the club being backed by the riches of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.

Contrary to expectations, Newcastle did not splash their newfound wealth extravagantly in the transfer window by the standards of top Premier League sides.

The club’s one marquee summer signing, Sandro Tonali, has been slapped with a 10-month ban for breaching betting rules during his time with Milan.

Harvey Barnes has spent most of the campaign out injured since his switch from Leicester, while young full-backs Lewis Hall and Tino Livramento have only been pressed into action in recent weeks due to injuries to others.

The decision to be more conservative in the transfer market is now coming back to bite, even if Newcastle showed remarkable resolve to thrash Chelsea 4-1 on Saturday without 13 first-team players.

Sven Botman, Dan Burn, Callum Wilson, Joe Willock and Sean Longstaff are among the other key players likely to miss out again at the Parc des Princes.

“You look at the players who were missing and that was a giant performance from the players we have fit,” said Howe after Chelsea were swept aside at St James’ Park.

However, the fear for Howe is that his depleted squad have already emptied the tank ahead of facing a PSG side led by Kylian Mbappe with revenge and a place in the last 16 in their sights.

Howe needed to name three goalkeepers and a number of teenagers just to fill his bench at the weekend.

The demolition of the French champions in their first home Champions League match for two decades appeared a statement of intent from a coming power of European football.

 

Growing pains 

 

Newcastle are aiming to follow in the footsteps of Manchester City as a state-backed project that can go onto dominate English football and conquer Europe.

But Howe is not yet working with a squad filled with superstars built to compete with the Champions League elite.

The likes of captain Jamaal Lascelles, Fabian Schar, Longstaff, Joelinton and Miguel Almiron were part of a side fighting relegation when Howe took over just two years ago.

City had to go through plenty of growing pains on the Champions League stage before finally lifting the trophy in June in their 12th consecutive season in the competition.

Newcastle’s rise into the Premier League’s top four last season came quicker than expected and they were then handed by a distance the toughest Champions League group in this season’s draw.

A return to facing Europe’s best may have come as a reality check for a depleted squad, but they are still in the fight for the last 16 if they can repeat the feat of keeping Mbappe quiet as they did in October and deliver another bloody nose to PSG.

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