With the UEFA Champions League on its winter break, uefa.com will publish mid-term reports on the 16 remaining sides in the competition every day until 31 December. Today we look at Newcastle United FC, who have already performed one of the greatest acts of Champions League escapology, and may need another to reach the quarter-finals.
The story so far
Newcastle's second UEFA Champions League campaign has already encapsulated the dizzy highs and suffocating lows that the club's fans have become used to accepting as part and parcel of life at St James' Park. In the first group stage the side achieved what no team in Champions League history had ever managed before – qualification after losing their opening three games.
Group E victories at home against Juventus FC and FC Dynamo Kyiv were capped by an astonishing night in Rotterdam against Feyenoord. Craig Bellamy, returning from suspension and injury struck a last-gasp goal to earn personal redemption, a 3-2 win for his side and a place in the last 16. It took just five minutes of Newcastle's opening second group stage match against Internazionale FC for the optimism engendered by that Rotterdam result to dissipate as Inter swept ahead and Bellamy was red-carded. Inter went on to win 4-1 and, to cap it all, Alan Shearer was handed a two-match ban for an elbowing incident missed by the referee.
In their next game against FC Barcelona, Sir Bobby Robson's men went down 3-1 in the Nou Camp despite a good team performance and an enterprising display from stand-in forward Shola Ameobi. Newcastle's first Champions League game after the winter break is away to Bayer 04 Leverkusen and, despite the precedent they set in the first group stage, a win is realistically needed to revive their quarter-final hopes.
In attack Newcastle can look irresistible at times. Bellamy and Shearer's respective pace and know-how are a threat against any side. Newcastle also possess a multitude of options and plenty of flair in midfield, with Hugo Viana, Kieron Dyer, Laurent Robert, Jermaine Jenas, Nolberto Solano and Gary Speed all vying for places. Additionally, Sir Bobby has seen and done it all at virtually every level of the game and commands respect from players, fans and media alike. The former England, FC Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven manager is capable of motivating the side to great heights.
Newcastle's defensive work does not always match their excellence upfield - a problem underlined by the 15 goals conceded in eight games. Also, while Shearer and Bellamy are major assets, by the time they return from their suspensions Newcastle's chance to reach the quarter-finals may have gone. Shearer will be absent until Matchday Ten, while Bellamy - sent off against both Dynamo and Inter - will not return until Matchday Eleven.
Key man - Kieron Dyer
With Shearer and Bellamy sidelined, midfield player Dyer will assume a huge responsibility against Leverkusen, and will be equally important for the remainder of the campaign. Dyer, who turns 24 on 29 December, is one of English football's brightest talents, with the ability to mix craft and graft with explosive results. That said, his career has often been interrupted by injury and an error against Barcelona while defending on the goalline was a moment he will wish to forget.
Best moment so far
No contest - Bellamy's winner against Feyenoord in Rotterdam which sent the visiting Geordie contingent wild with delight. Not only did it seal the unlikeliest of routes into the second group stage but it was the most dramatic goal of the 2002/03 tournament so far.
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