Newcastle did well to hold their opponents to a goalless draw in Russia and the Magpies hope to build on that result and win the return leg at their St James Park. In spite of the under-par showing in the first leg, Anzhi are still very much in this tie, given that they would go through with any scoring draw.
Europa League now a priority
Newastle haven’t had too many opportunities to play in Europe during their long history, so it was not surprising that Alan Pardew tried to field strong sides during the Europa League group stage even when his key players were in desperate need of rest. The good rotation policy helped the Magpies qualify for the knockout stages even when their Premier League campaign was a priority, but now that the team have finally managed to escape the danger zone in the league, Alan Pardew is adamant Newcastle are now shifting their focus towards their European campaign. After holding one of the strongest sides in the competition to a goalless draw away from home, and in the freezing conditions in Russia, the Magpies clearly see their opportunity to mount a serious title challenge, and aim to give their best in the return leg against Anzhi. Having played so well since the turn of the year, the hosts have a good chance to win this game and make it to the quarter-finals.
Yoan Gouffran and Mathieu Debuchy are cup-tied, while Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini, Ryan Taylor and Haris Vuckic remain sidelined. Hatem Ben Arfa and Shola Ameobi should return into contention.
Tough times for Anzhi
Following the heavy recruitment over the last few transfer windows, Anzhi have played some great football in the first part of the season, impressing in both domestic championship and the Europa League. However, the long winter break clearly took the wind out of their sails, resulting in some pretty poor showings over the last few weeks. The Russians may have eliminated Hannover since the Europa League campaign resumed, but they were pretty disappointing in the first leg against Newcastle, while weekend’s defeat to bottom-placed Mordovia Saransk proved Guus Hiddink’s side are far from the desired form at the moment. It is important to note that the Dutch manager fielded his strongest side in Saransk, so the embarrassing defeat is likely to serve as a big blow to the players’ confidence. As if that was not enough, star midfielder Willian is out of this clash, which is bound to make Anzhi’s job all the more difficult.
Willian misses out through a hamstring injury, but Mbark Boussoufa returns after missing the first leg through suspension.
Newcastle are playing great football at the moment and with their focus now on the Europa League, the Magpies have got to be considered favourites in this match. It is perfectly clear Anzhi are struggling for form after the long winter break, and without Willian they will struggle to match in-form Newcastle.
Top pick: Newcastle Draw no bet 1.73 (8/11) @ SkyBet
Alternative pick 1: Home win 2.55 (31/20) @ BetVictor
Alternative pick 2: Over 2.5 goals 2.38 (11/8) @ Coral
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