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Can Newcastle make the Europa League?

Monday 19th March 2012
It took a lot of grinding, tactical tweaking and a little bit of luck for a depleted Newcastle side to beat Norwich City 1-0 at St James' Park, but it was reminiscent of Newcastle's early season form that put them into the top six, where they have stayed since. Now with nine games remaining, can Newcastle make the Europa League, and well and truly beat their aim of a top 10 finish? Here's a quick look at their last nine fixtures:

West Bromwich Albion (A)

Liverpool (H)

Swansea City (A)

Bolton (H)

Chelsea (A)

Stoke City (H)

Wigan Athletic (A)

Man City (H)

Everton (A)

While it is not the best of run ins, Newcastle should be aiming to take wins from Bolton and Stoke City at home if they want Europe. Failure to beat teams in and around them at home would suggest we don't deserve Europe. Wigan Athletic are looking all but doomed and three points should be expected. Newcastle's downfall could well be playing Man City in a title decider so close to the end of the season. Goodison Park is hardly a nice easy way to end the season, especially considering that Everton have beaten the big teams at home consistently.

Newcastle are also faced with the difficultly of travelling to Stamford Bridge. West Brom, strangely, seem better on their travels than at home, but have shown Newcastle how difficult they can be to beat. Looking at the fixture list, a good indicator of Newcastle's European credentials will be the game against Liverpool at St James' Park.

While Liverpool have already qualified, they are five points behind Newcastle, and lengthening that gap up would give Newcastle a massive advantage. Liverpool also have the issue of competing in two competitions at once, though a good run could set Liverpool up for the double. Here's a look at Liverpool's last 9 fixtures:

QPR (A)

Wigan (H)

Newcastle (A)

Aston Villa (H)

Blackburn (A)

Fulham (H)

West Brom (H)

Norwich (A)

Chelsea (H)

Swansea (A)

Liverpool's fixture list appears far easier than Newcastle's, only coming up against one of the top four at Chelsea, and even then it's at Anfield. However, Liverpool have made a habit of being unable to beat "weaker opposition," dropping points against Swansea and Norwich at home. Again, I feel Liverpool's match against Newcastle will play significance in the race for Europe for Newcastle.

While Liverpool's ability to beat the top teams is impressive, their inability to break down lesser teams may cost them, however Newcastle United have struggled with an inconsistent back line. In recent weeks Mike Williamson, Davide Santon and Danny Simpson have all put in poor performances, leaving Fabricio Coloccini to save them all at various points. On the other side, Liverpool's strength is their defence. Players such as Skrtel have been leading by example, and Reina remains consistent.

However, Liverpool are not without their weaknesses, their lack of goals is a fact that just won't go away, while their build up play can be impressive, Luis Suarez is far too wasteful, especially when you consider his movement. Andy Carroll just can't buy a goal. On the other side, Newcastle's front line, while still adjusting, is showing promising signs. Papiss Cisse has already hit 3 in 5, Hatem Ben Arfa is finding form and Demba Ba currently has 16 goals. This sets up an interesting encounter at St James' Park on the 1st of April, and I believe the winner of that game will secure 6th place.

Usually, 5th place is where you have to finish for Europa League, but if Liverpool were to finish 6th or if themselves, Spurs or Chelsea win the FA Cup, Newcastle United would have the chance to return to European football. While many are focused on the fight for the Premier League title, the battle for fourth place and the relegation battle. The fight between Newcastle and Liverpool could be just as entertaining.

 

 
Tom Errington

Total articles: 9

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