IT has not taken long for the realisation to dawn that the Europa League is both a gift and a curse to Newcastle United this year.
48 hours before the season starts, Alan Pardew was being quizzed on the logistics of the Magpies’ treacherous first week of the campaign. The revelation that several senior men may not even travel to Greece for United’s first European game for five years will not make easy reading for supporters planning to travel, but those are the dilemmas that come with adding Continental competition to your calendar.
Not that it is all bad. On the one hand Pardew acknowledges that without it, it would have been difficult to persuade Vurnon Anita to commit the next five years of his career to Tyneside.
On the other, however, it has left him in the invidious position of probably having to leave some of his established stars at home when they kick off their Europa League campaign in Athens in six days time.
Pardew always acknowledged that there would be difficulties in balancing a tilt on Europe with a domestic challenge, and took the decision a long time ago that the Premier League would take precedence.
“We have to look at the games and how we schedule them but the League comes first for sure,” he said yesterday.
“We want to try and push the Champions' League teams – we were the closest to them and want to narrow the gap.
“So I will approach every game logically and play a side that I think can win every game.”
United will have to prioritise early.
Tottenham’s visit tomorrow is a tough opener, but United barely have time to draw breath before they head to Athens to play Atromitos. The Greek side are no mugs – they finished fourth in their league and reached the final of their domestic Cup – but Pardew is likely to rotate his team ahead of the lunchtime kick-off against Chelsea next Saturday.
While some may see that as an admission that Newcastle will treat the Europa League as less important than the Premier League, Pardew is quick to point out that much of his work in pre-season has been to bring fringe men like Dan Gosling and Sammy Ameobi up to scratch. So while Pardew is ready to follow the lead of Stoke City and rest recognised first XI players, he sees that as part of a meticulous plan to make an impact in the Europa League. It is all about being “intelligent”, he argues.
“I noted how Stoke played a complete second XI in one of the games. They left senior players behind and I can understand that,” he said.
“If you have really long trips, four or five hours to Ukraine or whatever, it is almost impossible. So we have to be very intelligent in what we do.
“But the most important thing is that we put a Newcastle team out which we think is going to win and we have been working really really hard pre-season on the younger ones and guys who did not see a lot of football last year – guys like Dan Gosling, Vuckic, Ferguson, Sammy Ameobi.
“All of those players are definitely going to get games this year and we need them to be in and around the level we’re at with out first XI.”
Pardew always said he would be honest with supporters and there followed a candid admission about the composition of the squad that will go to Greece.
He said: “Possibly (we will leave senior men behind), but as I said, almost every game I am gong to have to review with my staff and ask where are we going to go with these players.
“Who can play the three games? Who can play two? It is the first week and we have already had guys away on international duty and probably not done as much work as we would have liked, so that has to be taken into account.”
Does he consider it a rude awakening for United in Europe?
“Yeah but come on, we are just pleased to be there, we really are and will try to give it a real good go if we can.” Perhaps the bigger concern is that Chelsea, who have spent big in the summer to close the gap between themselves and the two Manchester clubs, are lying in wait next weekend.
“It gives us a disadvantage, there's no doubt about that,” Pardew confessed.
“We can't moan about it, we just have to get on with it and what we have done is try to maximise our planning so the impact of that is not too great.”
All of this strengthens Pardew’s case for strengthening his squad but after adding Vurnon Anita, the Newcastle boss reckons he would be happy for the transfer window to shut now.
He said: “I would not mind the window closing now having kept my players and if we can add another that would be the icing on the cake.
“It is key for a club like us being vulnerable to a Champions League club and the salaries and fees they can pay.
“But my board and Mike (Ashley) do not sell cheap so other swill have to pay a lot of money for any of our players.”