Just how far down the ladder of some fans concerns that Europe’s second competition is, could be seen when Manchester United supporters almost breathed a sigh of relief when the Red Devils were knocked out of the competition. Now we can concentrate on what’s really important, the Premier League, they said.
The Europa league can also be the graveyard of Premier League ambitions. Stoke and Fulham both finished lower in the league because of the added fatigue and injuries brought about by an extended season.
However, in Newcastle’s case it’s not Europe that I’m worried about. I’m worried about Africa.
The African Cup of Nations will be with us for a second successive year (normally every two years but to bring it into sync with Euros having an extra one) and brings with it its own unique set of questions. How will we cover missing players? Will we need to bring in extra faces during January? How will the missing players affect our team?
For the Magpies, Europe and AFCON could combine to create a perfect storm of missing key players, injuries and fatigue. Which could, potentially, destroy a season.
The absence of key players such as Ba, Cisse and Tiote will hurt Newcastle more than the added fatigue and possible injuries that a Europa League campaign will. This is because Newcastle have the fringe players, such as Ferguson, Ameobi, Gosling, Perch and Vuckic, that can provide adequate cover in Europe, playing alongside the African triumvirate, but won’t be able to replace them effectively.
One of the players who will be called upon when Tiote departs is Dan Gosling. Certainly, this is a make or break season for the 22 year old, who only managed a handful of appearances for Newcastle last year, due in part to his horrible injury record. Another injury prone midfielder, Marveaux, will be able to use the Europa league to stake his claim for a regular starting slot in Newcastle’s XI. The wide midfielder, signed from Rennes, missed large amounts of last season with a groin injury.
Newcastle have the right combination of fringe players and up-and-coming youngsters to be able to survive a Europe campaign, though the lack of cover for the strikers and central midfield is worrying. Shola Ameobi may be a great many things but a goal scorer he is not. He’s only scored 50 goals in over 260 appearances for the Magpies and if you don’t score goals, you can’t win games. Both Ba and Cisse will be missing due to their international commitments, so both the Ameobis will have to step up, along with the strike cover that Pardew is looking at signing, currently Luuk de Jong from FC Twente.
The Toon midfield is also one injury away from being adequate, not good. With Guthrie leaving on a free transfer, that leaves Gosling and possibly Perch as cover for the senior players, with a relatively untested Vuckic waiting in the wings. Further midfield reinforcements are surely needed if Newcastle are going to mount a successful European campaign and build on their wonderful 5th place finish from last year.