Some fans reading this article may think this is out of date as Europe has been and gone, and there is no, or at least very little, chance of it returning next year.
I actually originally wrote this piece in the middle of January. We still had Cabaye, we’re linked to new players, and hadn’t lost the Derby. So I thought I would send it on anyway…
On the face of it, the Europa League is not a competition teams particularly want to enter. Newcastle went from 5th (2011/12 season) to 16th only one season later (12/13), the same season that they were in the Europa League.
One season later (13/14), without European football, Newcastle are back up into the top half of the table and are comfortably there, ironically (as of middle of January) chasing down a Europa League spot and trips back to Eastern Europe and the like!
It’s not just Newcastle either that seem to have suffered. Just look at how Swansea have performed in the league this year compared to last. And look at Liverpool. Without any Europa League ‘distraction’ this year they are challenging for top 4 in the league. It has happened to other teams also. So is the Europa League a curse? I disagree…
I acknowledge it had to play a part to some degree in our disappointing season last year. Travelling instead of training or preparing for a game. But for me personally, I feel our Europa exploits were an excuse for our shocking league form. Something to hide behind and to blame. In fact whenever we played on a Thursday night, I’m sure Pardew had the “too tired’ excuse ready to give for the Sunday Premiership match.
I’m not a big fan of using data and stats to back up arguments but let’s look at a few.
In 2012/13 Newcastle United played a total of 54 games in all competitions. Is it possible that players could play in every one of those games? And still perform to the highest possible standards? In other words to be able to play twice a week and equally do himself, and the team, justice on every occasion?
In 2012/13 Ronaldo played 55 games, Messi (50), Lahm (47), Hazard (62), Iniesta (48), Ivanovic (59), Lewandowski (49) and Pirlo at the age of 34 (45). I could go on but you get the point.
Now I am not comparing Newcastle’s players with the above on quality. But on fitness, and an ability to play twice a week, surely Newcastle players are able to perform week in week out? I’ve never seen the form of any of the above named players dip by playing twice a week.
For information for Newcastle, only Cisse and Jonas managed to be involved in 40 or more games last season. So everyone else only managed less than 40 games. Granted some had injuries. But for me it’s pathetic to say players can’t play twice a week. They are professionals and I bet they would rather play than train.
Then let’s look at Newcastle’s first 8 games in Europe last season (the preliminary round and the group of 6 games). Anita started 5 games, Cisse (3), Krul (3), Colo (3), Santon (3), Tiote (3), Cabaye (1) and Ben Arfa (1). So before the knockout stage had even started in February, our main players had hardly kicked a European ball in anger. Sure some of them travelled, were on the bench, and may have come on, but they didn’t start many. And by February’s knockout stage we were well and truly in trouble in the league.
Another comparison is that to Spurs. Who like Newcastle were in the Europa League, but despite also crashing out in the quarter finals, ended up finishing 5th. Some might argue Europa League cost them a chance of a top 4 spot, but their points return for 2012/13 was actually their highest ever in a Premiership campaign.
Others will say that their squad is bigger than Newcastle’s. Granted. But how many of their ‘main’ players played twice a week? For their group of 6 games (they didn’t need a preliminary game) Lloris started 5, Vertonghen (6), Walker (6), Bale (4), Dempsey (4).
I don’t mind playing a weakened team in the group games. Pardew can play the reserves. Happily – and he did. So it shouldn’t have affected the premiership games.
Next up is the fact that we were equally as bad, if not worse, in the Premiership games when hadn’t played in Europe on the Thursday. What excuse can we use now? And ironically we won more points per game having played in Europe than when we didn’t. Oh Dear…
Our squad is not great, and certainly not in depth. But surely players can play on a Thursday and not be so tired on a Sunday that it affects their performance. For me the Europa League was a poor excuse to cover up shambolic league performances.
You could say it did affect the team if say we finished 8th then perhaps, but to go from 5th to 16th was not because of Europe but because of Pardew and underperforming players.
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