With the international break comes a time to reassess the first Champions League campaign for twenty years, and with it STEPHEN ORD has a strange sense of deja vu?
Trivia question: In 1997/98 Newcastle United played six Champions League games proper and scored seven goals. Tino got three, one was an own goal. Who scored the other three goals?
In the 1996/97 season Newcastle United squeezed into second spot by hammering Nottingham Forest on the final day of the season by five goals to nothing. This meant that they would be the first English team to have a chance to qualify for the Champions League, who were not champions. It meant two legs in the qualifiers against Croatia Zagreb.
The home leg was a brilliant occasion with Newcastle leading twice, the flying full back John Beresford scoring once in each half. An away goal was scored, but then cancelled out as we celebrated a Tino penalty to give us a seemingly insurmountable advantage in Zagreb. In fact it would require a scrambled extra-time goal from Temuri Ketsbaia to get us into the group stage.
Now, lots of you will know all this. The reason I am reviewing it is that, for me, was the only bit of the campaign that so far hasn’t gone exactly like 1997. So what can we learn from that?
Well in 97, we drew our first away game in a hostile atmosphere in front of a loud, noisy and very full stadium. The Dynamo Kyiv team of Shevchenko and Rebrov, played in front of a 100,000-capacity crowd. They were far better than we knew and a draw from that away game was an excellent result. It took some luck to get it (rather like Milan) although on this occasion we were two down after half an hour and a late own goal grabbed us the point.
But we were nervous, a little caught out by the speed and technical ability of our opponents. Caught off guard by their ability to move the ball quickly and get into positions to hurt us. That game reminded me very much of Milan but when they got into positions to be able to score. They didn’t.
Our first game of the group was at home to Barcelona. Rather like PSG they were the star-studded side of the group. Luis Figo, Luis Enrique, Rivaldo, Sonny Anderson (who we faced previously at Monaco), Christophe Dugarry. This was the team of stars, the team who were supposed to roll up Barrack Road, show us what we were up against and put us back in our box. But they didn’t.
Rather like Mbappe and co, they seemed to freeze for eighty odd minutes of the occasion. Unlike PSG though they gave themselves a chance in that their stars were able to raise themselves to get back at us. However, I can’t have been the only one who feared the worst at the time when Mbappe just strolled over and knocked a perfect cross to the back post that was missed when the games were still level.
Now obviously I am writing this after our second defeat to Dortmund. Probably the team that Newcastle would have seen as the weakest of the three in this ‘Group of Death’. Yet in actual fact this was the same with PSV Eindhoven. The only difference being they beat us one nil away, then two nil at home. Wim Jonk, Luc Nilis and Gilles de Bilde would become trivia questions in the Premier League later on – but they were not well known to us then and they gave us a footballing lesson. The home game in particular at times felt like we couldn’t lay a glove on them.
(As an aside they had a decent defender playing for them that day. Not very good looking. Went on to play for Man Utd.)
So, at that point in 1997 we had four points from four games. We had our most difficult away trip to come and a potential dead rubber at the end of the group.
They needed to go to Barcelona and get something. They put in a great performance. A certain Aaron Hughes made his debut I think. Yet we were beaten and the Kyiv home game meant little.
The current iteration of Newcastle United face needing to go to Paris to get something if they want to have any hope of the last sixteen. Defeat and any points for Dortmund or a Milan win mean we are out.
One thing we can take from that group performance is that going to Paris, we are still in it. Yet if we, like that 1997 team, are shorn of our star striker, are having to give youngsters with precious little experience a chance, then the results could be just the same.
So we need this international break to be an opportunity to regroup. To freshen players up if possible. I would be keen for Trippier to stay with the group rather than go and play ninety minutes against Malta. For that reason, at the moment I am glad Anthony Gordon is not called up. We need to try and get Botman back in, hope Miggy is ok and get at PSG as best we can.
We as a club, as a fanbase, don’t want AC Milan coming for a dead rubber. We want a chance … just a sniff of one.
Stephen Ord @smord84
Answers: John Beresford – Kyiv (A), John Barnes – Kyiv (H) and Stuart Pearce – Kyiv (H)