Newcastle United can all but confirm their place in the knockout stages of the Europa League with victory away to an out-of-form Club Brugge on Thursday (6pm GMT, live on ESPN).
The Magpies are undefeated in the competition and lead the group on seven points, three clear of Bordeaux, four clear of Brugge and five clear of bottom club Maritimo. They have drawn once and won twice in their three group stages matches to date, the most recent triumph coming in the first meeting with Brugge two weeks ago. Newcastle won 1-0 courtesy of a Gabriel Obertan strike just after half time.
The Magpies were fairly comfortable winners, rarely looking likely to concede their advantage once they had finally broken through a competent rearguard action from their visitors. Coach Alan Pardew switched from a first half 4-3-3 to his favoured (this season at least) 4-4-2 after the break, gaining immediate reward from the change in approach.
Pardew has generally rotated fairly heavily in the Europa League and will probably give some of those on the fringes of the first team another chance in this match. He may, however, elect to call on striker Papiss Demba Cisse, who could do with a goal to shake off his poor run of Premier League form that has seen him score just once all season.
The Europa League has provided opportunities for the likes of Sammy Ameobi and Shane Ferguson to shine. Ameobi provided the moment of inspiration that opened up the Brugge defence for Obertan to score in the first match between the sides, while the quality of Ferguson’s deliveries into the area have caught the eye. Both will be pushing for a Premier League place if they can continue in a similar vein.
Brugge have changed coach since the defeat at St James’s Park. Georges Leekens lost his job at the weekend following a 1-0 defeat at home to Zulte-Waregem – the club’s fifth consecutive loss in all competitions. He will be replaced on a caretaker basis by reserve team coach Philippe Clement.
One presumes Clement is unlikely to attempt a radical change of style at such short notice, so on Thursday we should expect Brugge to line-up in the 4-3-3 formation they have used in the majority of their matches this season. Such was their defensive outlook that the formation morphed into a 4-5-1 for much of the first encounter with Newcastle, but at home they will look to be much more offensive.
Jonathan Blondel and Victor Vazquez are neat and progressive in central midfield, Vazquez particularly wants to attempt incisive through balls to release a fleet-footed front three with Carlos Bacca at its centre. Bacca has scored 14 times in 15 matches in all competitions so far this season – earning him a recall to the Colombian national team – and Newcastle will have to be wary of his ability to drive in from the channels towards goal.
The 20-year-old forward Maxime Lestienne was probably Brugge’s best performer in the first meeting between the sides and has the ability to offer a consistent threat from the left of the front three. He has scored four times in six starts in the Belgian league so far this season and is developing into a promising player.
The match at St James’s Park was somewhat of an anomaly in Brugge’s season, as not many of their matches have ended with so few goals. They are usually quite an open team, scoring at a good rate, but also conceding more than their fair share. Matches involving them have seen more goals than those of any other team in the domestic league this season (3.79 per match, on average).
Club Brugge v Newcastle Betting Tips Conclusion
Brugge have plenty of good players going forward but can often leave themselves too open at the other end, something that could well play into the hands of a Newcastle side built primarily to counter attack.
We fancy the home side to get on the scoresheet, but at the same time believe Newcastle to have enough talent to come away with at least a point, maybe all three if Brugge go too gung-ho in search of the win.