Newcastle United entertain Maritimo at St. James’ Park on Thursday (8.05pm GMT, live on ESPN) looking to secure the three points that would confirm their progression to the knockout stages of the Europa League.
Newcastle are undefeated in the competition and top Group D with eight points from the four matches to date. Bordeaux are second on seven points, Brugge third on four, and Maritimo bring up the rear with just two points to their credit.
Victory here would see Newcastle move forward to the final 32 regardless of results in the final round of matches. A draw, however, could leave them needing to pick up the same result away to Bordeaux on the last day depending on results elsewhere.
Maritimo and Newcastle played out a fairly placid 0-0 draw when they met in Portugal in the first match of the group stage back in September. That was an encounter in which Magpies manager Alan Pardew made a number of personnel changes from his usual Premier League line-up.
Pardew has generally rotated fairly heavily in the Europa League, looking to give those players on the fringes of the first team opportunities to gain match fitness and display their talents.
Gabriel Obertan and Gael Bigirimana have been regular starters. Sammy Ameobi has impressed in his short cameo roles, while the likes of Mike Williamson, James Perch and Vurnon Anita have been Premier League semi-regulars whilst appearing in numerous Europa League matches.
These players have been supplemented by first team regulars as required, with Fabrizio Coloccini, Tim Krul, Cheikh Tiote and Papiss Demba Cisse all appearing at least twice.
Premier League results would suggest that Pardew is yet to quite get the balance right. Newcastle are in 12th place and have won just two of their last eight matches. It has been a completely different story in the Europa League, however, where two wins and two draws have put the Magpies in a strong position to qualify.
Newcastle have been excellent defensively during the group stage, keeping three clean sheets. Their defence was breached twice by Brugge in a 2-2 draw in the last round of matches, but has otherwise looked solid and should be sufficient to keep out a Maritimo side who are really struggling to find the back of the net.
The small Madeira-based outfit finished in a superb fifth place last season, but have been unable to replicate that form this time around and currently sit 12th in the league with nine points from as many matches. Worse still, they have scored just five times – two of the goals coming from a central defender (Joao Guilherme) and another from the penalty spot.
It has been a similar story in the Europa League, in which they have scored just once in two draws and two defeats.
Senegalese striker Papa Diawara had scored 10 goals in 14 appearances last season before being sold to Sevilla in the January transfer window. Although Maritimo soldiered on without him in the second half of the campaign, scoring just a goal less than in the first half, his absence is now being keenly felt.
Last season’s second-highest scorer Danilo Dias is yet to get on the scoresheet this time around and neither have fellow forwards Sami, Heldon and Fidelis. Maritimo need to unearth a semi-regular scorer as soon as possible if they are to avoid being a one-season wonder.
Nothing less than two victories in the final rounds of group play will suffice if Maritimo wish to make an unlikely claim for a knockout stage berth. Even then, they would require either Newcastle or Bordeaux to pick up no points from their last two matches, something that seems most improbable.
Newcastle v Maritimo Betting Tips
Newcastle will be making a concerted push to secure the victory that would ensure them a place in the knockout stages. They are unlikely to be unduly troubled by a Maritimo side who are experiencing chronic problems in front of goal.
- Bet on Newcastle to win to nil @ best odds of 11/8 with Ladbrokes.
- Maritimo are rarely thrashed. They have lost only one match this season by more than two goals. With Newcastle unlikely to be at full strength, we think there is some value in backing Maritimo +2 on an Asian Handicap @ 7/20 with Bet365. If they lose by one goal (or get a better result than that) then the bet comes in, while defeat by two goals would result in your money being returned.