Eddie Howe had never been to a Champions League game until recently, but those who anticipated the Newcastle manager to have a limited understanding of high-level European tactics were proven wrong as his team quickly took the lead in Group F.
However, despite a tie in Milan and dominating Paris Saint-Germain at home, Howe and his team were ultimately defeated by Edin Terzic’s tactically sharp Borussia Dortmund. On a rainy evening in Tyneside, a well-executed goal by Felix Nmecha secured a victory in the first half and kept the possibility of advancing to the next stage of the competition alive with three games remaining.
Despite hitting the bar twice, Newcastle’s manager Howe did not have many complaints. He had attempted to sign Nmecha during the summer but was unsuccessful. Howe acknowledged that his team had created a lot of pressure towards the end of the game, but they were not at their best and lacked technical precision in the first half. He recognized that the group of players he has is of high quality and that the match was always going to be close. He believes it all comes down to small details and his team is still in the fight.
The rain was so heavy at St James’ Park that they had to use large paper towels from the bathrooms to soak up the water on the plastic seats in the press box. This caused streams of water to form on the work benches, leading to the removal of the usual replay monitors due to safety concerns.
Fortunately, the field was in improved condition, resulting in a fast-paced and exciting game with both goalkeepers being immediately put to the test. Just as Nick Pope made a spectacular save to deny Donyell Malen’s shot following a brilliant pass from Marius Wolf that split through Newcastle’s defense, Gregor Kobel also displayed his quick reflexes to block Anthony Gordon’s curling shot.
Pope has been in magnificent form and he made a stunning double save to deny first the immensely impressive Malen and then Niclas Füllkrug. Sean Longstaff, too, has shone in recent weeks but a midfielder being hyped as a potential England newcomer was rescued by his goalkeeper after being dispossessed by Emre Can in the preamble to that drama.
In an effort to not be overshadowed completely, Kobel quickly prevented Gordon from responding by scoring first. However, Dortmund had shown that they were the better team with more effective passing and a talent for breaking down Newcastle’s defense before launching a swift counterattack.
Terzic’s poised, streetwise, team certainly did not resemble the group stragglers whose pre-match tally of a solitary point ensured this was something of a make-or-break fixture. Instead, as Dortmund posed Jamaal Lascelles and co more first-half problems than Paris Saint-Germain – thrashed 4-1 here – had done in an entire 90 minutes, while proving a particular menace at set pieces, it was easy to see why they came so agonisingly close to winning last season’s Bundesliga.
Newcastle showed great courage and determination as they faced a continuous stream of obstacles and defenses. However, Dortmund’s skillful handling of the ball, led by Can, Marcel Sabitzer, and Nmecha, kept the Newcastle midfield from ever gaining control.
Despite Terzic’s team’s strong performance, they cannot be considered to have complete control. The visiting team’s chances were hindered when Can was injured, giving Newcastle a boost to push forward. However, they were ultimately foiled by Nmecha’s impressive counterattacking goal just before halftime.
Nico Schlotterbeck took the ball from Gordon with a skillful tackle, and quickly passed it to Marco Reus. Then, he ran up the field to get the ball back and passed it to Nmecha, who scored with a quick and precise sidefoot finish that would have been difficult for any goalkeeper to stop.
Even the most devoted supporters of Newcastle would have found it difficult to argue against the fact that they deserved the lead. In fact, the local fans were unusually quiet and it was the yellow-clad German fans in the Leazes End who created the loudest noise amidst the heavy rain.
Geordie hope was renewed when Callum Wilson entered the game in place of the injured Alexander Isak, putting pressure on Kobel as Howe considered making changes with his substitutes.
Sandro Tonali, who is facing a possible 10-month ban for violating Italian betting rules, was seated on a bench alongside Joe Willock, who has recovered from a six-month injury-related absence.
Tonali quickly took the place of Longstaff, while Joelinton was replaced by Jacob Murphy. Unfortunately, Murphy only lasted a few minutes due to a suspected dislocated shoulder. Willock then replaced him, but despite Wilson and Gordon hitting the crossbar, neither he, the highly influential Tonali, nor anyone else could fully make the needed impact for a rain-soaked Howe.
Terzic stated that Newcastle aggressively pushed forward and took chances, but we made the correct choices. He also praised Felix Nmecha’s skills as a fantastic player and highlighted his exceptional performance in the game.