Newcastle United will hope to seal qualification to the knock-out stages of the Europa League with a home win over Portuguese side Maritimo. The Magpies top Group D with eight points from four games and are unbeaten in Europe this season. Maritimo, on the other hand, are bottom of the group and have only two points from four games. The Portuguese are already out of the competition. The reverse fixtures between these sides, at the Estadio dos Barreiros, ended in a 0-0 draw, with Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi denied twice by the woodwork in an exciting game.
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Newcastle manager Alan Pardew will want to seal qualification to the knock-out stages tonight, which would allow him to rest key players for the group's final game - away to French club Bordeaux, who are second in the group. However, the Premier League club come into this game on a poor run of form, with no wins in the last four and only one in the last five. The last European game was a hard-fought 2-2 away draw against Belgian side Club Brugge and the weekend saw the Magpies beaten 2-1, at St James' Park, by Swansea City.
The Magpies have had a disappointing league season, to be honest, with only 14 points from the first 12 games. There may be some truth to the notion Pardew and his men overachieved considerably in their first season back in the Premier League. However, the club were able to hold on to all of their stars from last year, including the highly-rated Senegalese strike pair of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, as well as the French duo of Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa. This should have afforded Pardew a near-ideal platform of stability and experience to kick-on for an even better second season but something... somewhere... has gone astray.
The Tyneside club are looking less and less likely, based on present form, to challenge for European football next season.
They may, however, take solace in the fact their visitors for this midweek fixture are in even more dire straits. Pedro Martins' side have only nine points from the opening nine games of the Portuguese Liga and a mini-defensive crisis on their hands, after conceding 10 goals in five of the last six games. The club drew the last league game they played - a 1-1 draw against visiting Vitoria Setubal - and lost 1-0 to Ligue 1 club Bordeaux in the last round of Europa League games. However, the good news is they may have worked through their poor form. The club beat Aguiar da Beira 0-3, in a Portuguese cup match over the weekend.
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): L L D D W
- Last Match: Newcastle United 1 - 2 Swansea City
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): W D L L L
- Last Match: Aguiar da Beira 0 - 3 CS Maritimo Funchal
Newcastle are without French midfielder Yohan Cabaye or Englishman James Perch; Cabaye is likely out till the New Year. In addition, Argentine winger Jonas Gutierrez and ex-Manchester United player Gabriel Obertan are also unavailable. Long-term absentees are Ryan Taylor, Dan Gosling and Haris Vuckic.
The good news is striker Papiss Cisse will probably be available after a suspension from Fifa over neglect of international commitments and the 27 year old one-time Real Madrid target will probably rejoin compatriot Demba Ba up front. There is also the option of resting both players and giving the Ameobi brothers (Shola and Sammy) a start, with one eye on the weekend's trip to St Mary's to play Southampton.
Elsewhere, Pardew may chose to give Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul a rest and play Steve Harper in goal. The 37 year old Magpies veteran was called upon for a handful of league and cup games earlier this season and performed quite well and was particularly impressive in the Europa League home fixture against Brugge, in October. The other big news for Pardew is the return of Argentinean centre back and club captain Fabricio Coloccini.
Probable Line-Up: Harper; Santon, Taylor, Coloccini, Ferguson; Marveaux, Tiote, Bigirimana, Anita; Sammy Ameobi, Shola Ameobi
Maritimo are without injury concerns and will likely play the strongest team they can, as they look to avoid elimination from the group stages.
Probable Line-Up: Salin; Briguel, Rosario, Guilherme, Ferreira; David Simao, Mirando, Joao Luiz; Danilo, Fidelis, Sami