The great moments passed Newcastle United with — a foul ball here, a brush of the woodwork there — and there was plenty (good or bad, depending on your point of view) for the visitors Borussia Dortmund to work. If Paris Saint-Germain’s demolition here was the apotheosis of two long decades of longing on Tyneside, then last night The Champions League group game at St James’ Park was like his hangover. It was ugly, dark, dripping wet and punishing.
Of late, the “group of death” lives up to its brutal billing, with a slight AC Milan, who reached the semi-finals of the competition last season, but failed to summon victory at the midway point. It’s a draw, a win and now a defeat for Eddie Howe and his players, pushing them from first down to third, a distance separated by two points. Next up, two away games, to Signal Iduna Park and the Yellow Wall for a second leg with the Germans and then the Parc des Princes.
If the story of PSG game three weeks ago was one of noise and romance; Blitz, energy, pressure, by the home side scoring as Newcastle return to contention 20 years on, it was a textbook titled What Not To Do In The Champions League.
Thank you 🙃 photo.twitter.com/Zn1GRIIwQ7
— Borussia Dortmund (@BVB) October 25, 2023
There was a scholarly tone to the words Howe kept returning to game after game, a reminder that all this is still new and shocking for the club, in a way it isn’t in Dortmund, Paris or Milan. “We probably weren’t at our best and in this competition it’s a lesson for us because we have to be,” said the Newcastle boss. He also said: “Teaching tonight about how fine a margin is.
Nice as gossamer.
Gordon was robbed of the ball and the break, Dortmund broke and were ahead. Bang, Alexander Isaac have to leave in 15 minutes. Bang and bang again, the sound of the goal frame of the visitors trembled.
“It’s the elite, isn’t it?” Howe said. “It’s the highest level. Every little mistake you make is likely to be punished.” In the first half, he said, his teams were “a bit loose technically on a very fast pitch and we were quick to make decisions”.
After an impressive display of Wor Flags before the game, the crowd of fans, who covered every seat in the stadium with banners or placards to wave, the atmosphere, like the weather, became mild.
Letting Newcastle down was a break from Dortmund who were clinical, skilful and admirably cynical when needed. They were better in the big moments and sucked at the silence.
— George Caulkin (@GeorgeCaulkin) October 25, 2023
Many thanks to everyone who participated today.
We have to question the atmosphere. So bad at huge milestones. We have to be better than that.
— Wor Flags 🏳🏴 (@worflags) October 25, 2023
Lesson one: everyone, everything, relentlessly, always.
In the Champions League – especially in this particular group – all teams have the ability to strip the other three, leaving the opposition exposed, exposed and trembling. Luis Enrique’s expression as he left St James’ three weeks ago bore that story – but his PSG side now have a two-point lead at the top of Group F.
Dortmund flexed their ability in the first half last night. This lion den of Geordie had greeted and then eaten his Parisian offenders, but the others Bundesliga team entered the same environment and attacked Newcastle’s greatest strengths.
Howe’s midfield trio is integral to his system, filling the central areas with two No 8s who are powerful vertical runners and in Bruno Guimaraes, number 6 with excellent positioning and lateral movement. While Luis Enrique’s midfield split was spat with scorn, Dortmund’s Edin Terzic played his own midfield three instead, while drawing his first three deep and making his defense tight to pack the middle of the pitch.
With centre-back Nico Schlotterbeck also stepping up to make a stop and left winger Marco Reus occasionally dropping in at left-back to cover that move, Dortmund laid traps, happy to let Newcastle’s confidence lead them down dark alleys they would normally avoid .
“I think we lost some of the ball in the first half and gave them what they wanted – the turnover,” said the Newcastle midfielder. Joelinton. “They scored and that’s it. We weren’t at our best tonight and we got punished.”
Aware that their England The right-back is Newcastle’s attacking link during the build-up, Dortmund shuffled any midfield turnover to the left and explored the space behind Trippier. Terzic’s positioning of the wingers not only helped them win the ball – but also burst past Jamaal Lascelles’ right shoulder.
When Sean Longstaff was roughly sent off 10 minutes into the game, Marcel Sabitzer drove towards the box before being reduced to Donyell Malen. Goalkeeper Nick Pope played, blind, and somehow brought the ball away with his hip. Save him from Niclas FullkrugThe follow-up was even better, shooting an arm down like a slat into the concrete foundations. Newcastle were still level.
Time to fast forward; it’s one minute into half-time and Newcastle are close to rallying. Then, inevitably surely, the rally, the rasp of the internet, the roar.
But concentration waning on the wet grass, Dortmund set one final trap before the break. Gordon’s rush onto the field was halted by Schlotterbeck stepping forward and with six teammates ahead of him, Newcastle were racing, the No. 8 team already sprinting up the field.
Schlotterbeck followed his pass. This time it was Felix Nmecha (a player Newcastle had been monitoring this summer) who found the cut; this time the ball found the far corner of Pope’s net.
As Joelinton said, “They scored and that’s it.
Newcastle’s next game in Europe is the return on November 7 at Dortmund – an atmosphere as hostile as St James’ can be. Howe’s players were fuming after the game; Joe Willockafter his first senior appearance since May due to a hamstring injury, understandably derailing the fight.
“We can beat any team in the world when we’re at our best,” Willock said. “I truly believe so. We’re going to analyze this game today and we’re going to go there and win.”
That analysis will take some work.
It’s not a matter of correcting but of rebuilding – making sure Dortmund can’t throw their javelin at Newcastle’s strengths again. How to cover behind Trippier races? How to ensure that the center retains its boldness?
The day Howe runs out of tactical ideas will be the day Howe stops managing, and he fumbled throughout the second half; half, in fairness, as Newcastle began to find their rhythm through the storm. Some of that invited Dortmund to lean back, but it was equally sparked by Newcastle’s system changes – a retreat until they fully understood what their opponents were trying to do.
On the other hand, some of Howe’s tweaks were necessary – the byproduct of a tiring evening, after which Newcastle could find a quartet of players unavailable on Saturday. Premier League trip to Wolves.
Jakob MurphyAn introduction just after the hour saw a switch to 4-2-3-1 for the first time this season – only for the winger to go off the shoulder after just under five minutes. “I’m absolutely devastated for him,” Howe said.
Isak was already off the field, the forward having a repeat in the first half due to a groin injury that he initially picked up at West Ham before this month’s international break. With another Wednesday game next Wednesday night (Manchester United away in the last 16 of the Carabao Cup, a repeat of last season’s final), his replacement Wilson, a player closely controlled by his minutes, could be asked to play four full games in 11 days.
Elliot Andersona back injury and an impending suspension looming Sandro Tonali suddenly leave Newcastle light for the gauntlet of games – Manchester United, Dortmund, Arsenal, Chelsea and PSG, all facing the end of November.
“Nothing is lost in the crowd,” Howe said. “We’re still in there, still fighting.”
And he was right; Learning, resilience, expansion and fighting are all Newcastle’s strengths, but on and off the pitch against Dortmund, the standards dropped, by one per cent, by two per cent or three.
It was more than enough to not be enough.
(Top photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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