WOULD Newcastle United supporters prefer a trophy in the cabinet or a decent league position?
It has been a matter of debate ever since Alan Pardew indicated the Premier League would take precedent this year. After the completion of the Europa League’s third qualifying draw in Geneva yesterday, Pardew had a little more ammunition for his theory that the league remains all important.
For while Carling Cup winners Liverpool were sent to either Belarus or Moldova for their qualifying tie, United were afforded the luxury of looking on in anticipation.
The Reds will take on Gomel or FK Renova of Macedonia, two minnows that should barely trouble Brendan Rodgers’ side as they bid to reach the play-off stage that Newcastle have qualified for automatically by virtue of their fifth-placed finish. But it still requires Liverpool to conclude their pre-season early and face a long trek to an Eastern European outpost that United would hardly relish.
Newcastle will have paid only a passing interest to a draw that looks likely to have handed a safe passage into the play-off stages to all of the tournament’s big guns.
Inter Milan, Marseille and Athletic Bilbao are the three biggest sides not from these shores and none have been given the most straightforward of tasks to make it into the final qualifying stage.
Inter could be heading to Croatian side Hadjuk Split if they defeat Skonto Riga of Latvia while Marseille could be heading to Scotland to play Saint Johnstone – if the Scots side defeat Turkish side Eskisehirspor.
Athletic Bilbao – who lost in the final last year – face Croatian side NK Slaven Koprivnica or Northern Ireland’s Portadown.
The crucial dates for United are August 9 and August 10. The first is the date of the second and deciding leg of all of these ties while the second is the date of the play-off draw in Switzerland.
United will be seeded thanks to a combination of their own past performances in Europe and England’s excellent UEFA co-efficient but the complicated and drawn out process means they may be in a lower pot of seeds, which could throw them a tricky tie.
Among the dark horses lurking are Dutch duo SC Heerenveen and FC Twente, Romanian side Rapid Vienna, Norweigans Rosenberg and Hannover 96 of the Bundesliga.