Newcastle v Benfica, 8.05pm, Live on ITV4
Match odds: Newcastle 3.05, Benfica 2.56, the draw 3.45
NEWCASTLE have built their Europa League success on defensive strength and high levels of concentration but both qualities deserted them in Lisbon last week.
Despite taking an early lead through in-form striker Papiss Cisse, Newcastle proceeded to give away two terrible goals in a 3-1 defeat. Davide Santon was punished for a dreadful back-pass and Steven Taylor’s clumsy handball gifted the hosts a penalty.
That loss has left the Magpies with a lot to do in the second leg and we can take instruction from what Benfica did to Bordeaux in the previous round.
Leading 2-0 from the first leg, Benfica withstood a flurry of early French attacks before punishing Bordeaux ruthlessly on the counter to notch a 3-2 victory on the night.
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has played up the importance of the home crowd in the build-up to this game but Benfica have shown they can get results at difficult venues with raucous atmospheres.
They managed 0-0 draws at Celtic and Barcelona in the Champions League and in the last 32 of the Europa League won 1-0 at Bayer Leverkusen who at that stage had only lost once at home all season.
Newcastle’s home record in the Europa League is solid but unspectacular. They have won four matches and drawn two but this is the first time they have had to really chase a game.
Opta tell us Newcastle haven’t lost any of their last 22 home games in European competition but in their last one against Anzhi Makhachkala they were rescued by the crossbar before Cisse nicked a late winner.
Cisse will bear much of the goalscoring responsibility for Newcastle – he has scored in each of his last four appearances at St James’ Park and has netted 12 goals in all competitions. He is 2.74 in the to score market.
Benfica have won all four of their Europa League games, they have won their last 12 games in all competitions, and haven’t lost a game since October last year. That’s an unbeaten run of 35 matches.
Newcastle may be able to hand a cameo to sparkling Frenchman Hatem Ben Arfa but have plenty of players unavailable. Yoan Gouffran and Mathieu Debuchy are ineligible, while Cheik Tiote, Fabricio Coloccini, Davide Santon and Steven Taylor are all injured.
Benfica have more or less a fully-fit squad and are in the winning habit. Pardew says Newcastle will be patient but they’ll have to open up at some stage and Benfica can exploit the spaces they leave behind. The price of 2.56 on offer for the away win looks tempting.
Back Papiss Cisse to score at 2.74
Best Bet Back Benfica to win at 2.56