Paris Saint-Germain, St James’ Park
Champions League Group F: Game 2
Wednesday 4th October, 8:00PM
Live on TNT Sports
If you can tear your eyes away from the drones in the sky, Lee Forster has your matchday preview for the long-awaited return of Champions League football to St. James’ Park. The Magpies face French titans Paris Saint-Germain in a game that promises to be a night to remember…
Joe Kinnear. Jeff Vetere. Xisco. Dennis Wise. Lee Charnley. Seydou Doumbia. Steve McLaren. Steve Bruce. Michael James Wallace fucking Ashley…
Whether you’re lucky enough to have a ticket, taking the game in at your local watering hole, or watching at home, allow yourself a moment on Wednesday evening to recall the mocking / contempt / ridicule that everyone with black-and-white blood in their veins has had to endure at the hands of the various no-marks over the past decade-and-a-half.
Then, take another moment. Only this time, remind yourself that this management team, this squad of players and this fanbase have earned the right to once again take our place amongst Europe’s footballing elite.
Collectively, we deserve this moment.
As the drones so beautifully spelled out over Barrack Road on Sunday and Monday evening, Newcastle United are back. A mere 20 Years, 6 months and 15 days (or 7504 days if we’re being precise) after a 0-2 reverse to Barcelona in March 2003, Wednesday evening will see St James’ Park host a bonafide Champions League group stage game.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Let’s be clear though, come kick off on Wednesday the “I can’t believe we’re here, let’s just enjoy it” mentality (which I am convinced contributed to our Wembley defeat, before again rearing its head in the run up to the AC Milan game) must be put to bed once and for all, both on and off the pitch.
Newcastle United deservedly finished 4th in arguably the best league in the world last season, have recently secured that draw in Milan, won 8-0 away from home, and have knocked the Champions of Europe out of a domestic cup competition. We are a proper football team again. Wednesday night is a chance to announce that to the rest of Europe.
Luis Enrique’s Paris Saint Germain will arrive at St James under considerable pressure. His charges might be valued at c.£800m, but they currently occupy a disappointing 5th place in Ligue Un (W3, L1, D3), with Dembele & Co. having drawn a blank in a 0-0 draw at lowly Clermont Foot at the weekend.
It is not lost on this Mag that, despite having a secured only 1 point prior to Saturday’s game, second-bottom Clermont managed 15 shots and 6 corners from only 33% possession. This suggests that PSG’s back four of Marquinhos, Skriniar, Hakimi and the lesser of the two Hernandez brothers (Lucas) can be caught out provided the right team selection / tactics deployed. Whether it is Alexander Isak or Callum Wilson that gets the nod, I am confident that, with support from Anthony Gordon and one of either Miggy or Murphy, we will cause the Parisians problems with our pace and press.
However, at the other end of the pitch, United will need to bring their ‘A’ game as they come up against a truly generational (albeit often temperamental) talent in Kylian Mbappe Lottin.
Having suffered an ankle injury against Marseille on 24th September, it was widely believed that Mbappe was touch and go to make this game. I know of many a Mag that were weirdly disappointed by this because they “wanted to see Mbappe in the flesh.” After he completed the full 90 minutes at the weekend, they are likely to get their wish.
France’s premier sports outlet L’Equipe has reported today that the mercurial 24-year-old is still not 100% fit. However, with 252 goals and over 100 assists in 332 career games, Mbappe’s pace and guile has the potential to take the game away from us, hence why this Mag would rather see him warming the PSG bench on Wednesday, unable to take any part in the game. Let’s be honest: his participation in the game reduces our chance of taking 3 points that we may need to get out of this season’s Champions League ‘Group of Death’ (© Sky Sports).
If, as is expected Mbappe does take his place on the left flank, I believe that United have one of the few players in Europe capable of nullifying such a threat. Step forward, Kieran Trippier.
Tripps may not have the pace to match Mbappe – as was the case in the San Siro vs Rafael Leão – but his quality and experience will mean that the Frenchman himself will have to be ‘at it’ to get any change from a player whose leadership skills will undoubtedly see him talk and guide his black-and-white colleagues through every minute of what promises to be a monumental night in NE1.
The injuries to Sven Botman and Joelinton couldn’t have been more poorly timed if they had been summoned by a Mackem witch doctor. The absence of Joelinton in particular makes the return to form of our very own talisman Bruno Guimarães even more important. Recent games have seen Bruno back to his tackle-celebrating, ball-spraying best and with Tonali’s Champions League experience and Longstaff’s never-ending graft, I reckon the midfield battle with Ugarte, Vitinha et al will be pivotal in deciding who comes out on top.
Nights like this are made for players who live for the big occasion, and in Guimarães own words, he was “born to play Champions League.” I am expecting big things from him.
Make no mistake, this is a BIG occasion. Many of you reading this will have undoubtedly been regaled by stories from ex-players and fellow Mags, as they fondly reminisce about a balmy night back in September 1997: a native of Tulua in western Colombia put a European behemoth to the sword on Barrack Road. Wednesday is a chance for players and fans alike to write themselves into Geordie folklore.
Players and fans should not be found wanting. Remember: intensity is our identity.