Europa League preview: Anzhi Makhachkala vs Newcastle United
Newcastle travel to Moscow to take on the Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala on Thursday night in the first leg of the round of 16 stage of the Europa League. The game pits together two teams with polar opposite policies of building their teams.
While Newcastle in recent years have confined their additions to the team based on detailed scouting and graft in the board rooms, which has enabled them to bring in talents on the cheap, Anzhi have gone about being one of the most extravagant teams in the transfer market, bringing in some outrageously talented individuals for equally extravagant prices.
When Anzhi began their process of bolstering their squad with household names, thanks to the millions pumped in by Dagestani billionaire Suleyman Kerimov, the future at the outset looked unclear, and the purchases brought to pass feelings of a hoard of mercenaries being bundled together. But 13 months on from the first clear signs of intent from Kerimov by the announcement of the eminent arrival of Samuel Eto’o, the billionaire seems no less intent on leading Anzhi to new pastures, with Willian’s €35 million capture from Shahtar Donetsk becoming the latest jewel in the assembly that has become Anzhi Makhachkala.
Newcastle, on the other hand, have a juggling act on their hands. Sitting only 6 points above the dropzone will give Alan Pardew not much respite going into the tie. However, the tournament is not something that Pardew has taken lightly, as was seen with the line-ups he put up against Metalist Kharkiv in the previous round. The squad certainly has now been strengthened with 5 new faces in the January transfer window, but they will be up against it against Anzhi, who are one of the favourites to win the tournament. Without a trophy themselves in 44 years, Pardew surely will know that this represents a great chance for both him and his team to go down in Newcastle’s history.
Anzhi’s last game was their previous round’s fixture against Hannover, which was more than a fortnight ago. So, there isn’t much form to take into the game, with the Russian League still on its winter break. However, whenever on show, Gus Hiddink’s men have shown no signs of rust, but with no real games in between their Europa League games, they could take a while to get acclimatised.
Compared to the 10 Newcastle goals in the competition, Anzhi have already netted an impressive 26 times. So, this game may well become the clash between the irresistible force and the immovable object.
The game being played on an artificial surface may suit the home side as well, with the ball having a different bounce, while the surface itself becomes a lot more pacy than on natural grass.
However, the game will not be played in Anzhi’s own backyard. Instead, it will be the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow that will play host to the game, which increases the intrigue in the game.
Gus Hiddink as always seems to have done his homework on his opponents, and was full of praise for his opponents, who he thinks will be their biggest challenge so far:
“When you see that last game against Swansea, they were dominating, dominating, dominating and they got a very unlucky goal in the last part of the match against them. You could see though it is a modern team, so it is a big challenge for our team.
“In my opinion Newcastle are a stronger team (than Anzhi’s last opponents Hannover), first because they play in the Premier League, which looks stronger than the Bundesliga.
“Also, they have had good improvement in their results and have high quality national team players in their line-up.
“They have powerful and skilful players in all positions, such as Moussa Sissoko, and I’m sure they want to be in that final in Amsterdam in May.”
Three wins in their last six certainly bodes well for Newcastle, but their away form has been appalling this season, to say the least. They have won only twice away from St. James’ Park, with both victories coming in the early goings of this year. With the added quality from the January transfer window and returning players like Yohan Cabaye and Steven Taylor, the side now looks to have great depth while having a balanced look about them.
This will be Newcastle’s sternest test, tactically. Facing an ammunition room consisting of Eto’o, Lacina Traore and new signing Willian will be an unenviable task for the visitors. It will take immense concentration from the midfield to close out the passing lanes and press them out of their comfort zone.
Mbark Boussafa will be the only player that will not be up for selection for the Russian side. The midfielder will be serving a yellow card suspension. Hiddink has the rest of his squad to choose from, which includes ex-Premier League players like Lassana Diarra and Yuri Zhirkov.
Newcastle will be without the services of their influential captain Fabricio Coloccini, who is struggling with a back injury. Fellow Argentine Jonas Gutierrez will not be in action, as he has been advised against playing on the surface, as it might have an averse effect on his knees.
Papiss Cissé didn’t make the trip as well after having fallen ill. Shola Ameobi’s past knee troubles should dictate him not playing on the artificial turf as well, but he might see action with Pardew short of numbers upfront.
Newcastle fans however are likely to get a glimpse of Hatem Ben Arfa after Pardew suggested in the pre-game conference that he would like to involve the Frenchman in the game somewhere along the line. The likes of Vurnon Anita, Massadio Haidara and Danny Simpson are likely to be involved as well.