NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - JUNE 13: A general view of the Tyne Bridge as the city of Newcastle prepares for the Olympic Torch Relay by displaying the Olympic rings on the famous landmark on June 13, 2012 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
The draw for the first and second rounds of the 2012-13 Europa League will take place Monday at 1200 BST at UEFA headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. Newcastle United will not enter the competition, which will feature 193 teams in all, until the Play-off (4th) Round, but events in the early rounds could impact Newcastle's ability to proceed in the competition. I don't want to overstate this - this early in the competition, not much is going to affect the club directly, but if you're a geek like me who likes to understand the ins and outs of tournament progression, days like today are actually pretty fun. There happen to be one or two compelling storylines as well.
Take, for example, the case of FC Twente. Twente, who had competed in the UEFA Cup/Champions League for the previous 4 years, finished a disappointing 6th in the Eredivisie in 2011-12 and so had to qualify for Europa via the Fair Play route. They'll be entering the tournament in the First Round, like the other two Fair Play qualifiers, and they seem a good bet to be one of the only First Round clubs still standing by the time Newcastle join the competition in August. Here's the intriguing part for the Toon: Since the Reds start play so early (July 5), they have the opportunity to cup-tie Newcastle targets Luuk De Jong and Douglas just as the transfer window officially opens. They're unlikely to choose to do so, but never underestimate the kinds of shenanigans teams are willing to stoop to when they're trying to retain their players.
The other thing to watch out for is the fates of clubs that are above Newcastle in the pecking order. UEFA uses club coefficients to seed their draws, so any club with a higher number than NUFC should be viewed as Public Enemy #1. Since this is the club's first European action in quite some time, their coefficient is a paltry 16.882 (compare that with Inter Milan, who enter in the Third Round and sport a 104.992). They are currently ranked 25th of 62 teams who will compete in the Play-off Round, but 14 teams with higher coefficients will enter the fray in prior rounds. Barring a series of minor miracles, NUFC will be an unseeded team in the Play-off Round draw, meaning they will face a higher ranked team. It becomes a bigger deal if they are able to advance to group play. If every team ranked higher than Newcastle were to advance (conceivable, but not particularly likely), the Magpies would be placed in the fourth pot for the Group Stage draw, a wholly undesirable position.
The bottom line? Clubs with a coefficient higher than 16.882 need to lose, and the sooner the better. Three such teams will enter in the First Round - Twente, Lech Poznan (Poland), and Rosenborg (Norway). Two more will join in the next round: APOEL and Anorthosis, both of Cyprus. None of these teams will draw anybody that will have them shaking in their boots, but it's certainly fun to know who to root for and against. Of course, if you're planning on being part of the traveling party when NUFC play their match, you may be rooting for the best vacation destination. Have you ever seen a mackem in Tripoli?
The draws will be streamed live at the Official UEFA Site.