Newcastle United take on Benfica in the second leg of their Europa League Quarter-Final on Thursday night, with a 3-1 deficit to overturn if they are to move one step closer to European glory.
The first leg in the Estadio Da Luz didn’t go to plan for the Magpies, who self-destructed to gift the home side two goals and set themselves up for a huge challenge at St James’ Park on Thursday night.
Papiss Cisse scored a potentially vital away goal to give Newcastle an unexpected lead but after Rodrigo equalised later in the first half, errors from Davide Santon and Steven Taylor resulted in Alan Pardew’s side falling behind.
If Newcastle can win 2-0 on Tyneside, they will go through on the away goals rule and have a genuine chance of winning the competition after disposing of another of the top sides left in the hunt for the Europa League.
The Geordies will head into the tie in good spirits, having been boosted by a last-gasp win over Fulham at the weekend thanks to another Cisse goal. Meanwhile, Benfica kept up their incredible domestic form with a comfortable away win at Olhanense. The Super Eagles are still unbeaten in the league and are four points ahead of rivals FC Porto at the top of the standings.
Newcastle know all about Benfica’s most dangerous players from the first leg, with in-form Brazilian striker Lima causing problems for the likes of Steven Taylor and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. Nicolas Gaitan is the main creative force in the Portuguese side's ranks, while winger Ola John is a speedy option on the opposite flank. Rodrigo, who spent a year on loan at Bolton earlier in his career, is Benfica’s sharpest attacker, while Oscar Cardozo is an excellent partner for the Spaniard.
Alan Pardew will once again have to field a side without the ineligible Yoan Gouffran and Mathieu Debuchy, while Davide Santon will miss out with a hamstring injury and could be replaced by Massadio Haidara, according to The Shields Gazette.
There have been rumours of Hatem Ben Arfa returning soon, but most reports, such as this one from The Daily Mail, indicate that the Frenchman's return is more likely to come against Sunderland on Sunday. Ben Arfa's countryman Sylvain Marveaux will likely be the main source of creativity behind Cisse.
St James’ Park has officially sold out, meaning there will be an incredible atmosphere around the ground when kick-off approaches on Thursday night. The win over Anzhi Makhachkala in the last round was helped by a raucous crowd inside the stadium and Newcastle will be hoping the vocal Toon Army can lift their side again and inspire them to what would be one of the most famous victories in recent memory.