Newcastle’s fixture list leaves little room for manoeuvre this autumn. Chief sports writer Mark Douglas asks Jonás Gutiérrez how United can cope with Continental competition.
WHEN it comes to the Europa League, it’s a numbers game.
Matches, squad size, number of miles traversed across the Continent simply to make the knock-out stages – all of these digits have been factored in as Alan Pardew arrives at the conclusion that Europe will be the preserve of his young guns this year.
Pardew’s assertion that his blue-chip players will be held back for the Premier League has caused mumbles of discontent among those who see the return to Europe as a gold-plated achievement that is being sullied by his squad rotation system.
But the numbers – as The Journal reveals today – simply don’t lie.
Over the three seasons since the competition was re-imagined as the Europa League, the average number of players required for a tilt at Europe has been 33. Of the eight clubs who have made it into the group stages, only Stoke City and Birmingham City have used less than 30.
To put it into some sort of context, Newcastle used 27 players in all competitions last season so Pardew will probably reflect on the fact that he needs to find another three or four from somewhere to support their Europa League effort.
After summer dealing the realistic size of United’s squad stands at 33 – but that includes their four goalkeepers, long-term injury victim Ryan Taylor and exiled strike pair Nile Ranger and Xisco. Unless Pardew rotates, the numbers just don’t add up. It is a policy that has won favour with his senior players, such as Jonás Gutiérrez. Now one of Newcastle’s elder statesmen, he is candid about the way that this season will pan out – and says that balancing the needs of the various competitions does not mean United will be any less committed to picking up silverware.
“We want to do well in all of the competitions,” he told The Journal.
“The team and the players are looking forward to all of the games that we have in a Newcastle shirt. We wear the black and white shirt with pride every time.
“It’s going to be good to fight in all of the competitions. With the team and the squad we have, it isn’t going to be enough for all of the competitions.
“Then maybe we have to make a choice at some point – it’s going to be a difficult situation. This will be a big opportunity for the young lads, who will get the chance to play. They are playing their first games and if you have to understand that they might do things wrong over the course of the season.
“For example, you have Bigi on Sunday who was great. But you cannot expect him to play 35 games this year and play as well as that because he is very young. You have to make sure you manage your time – he is a very good player but he needs to have time.”