Metalist Kharkiv promises to take Europa seriously. - Martin Rose
Newcastle are set to face Metalist Kharkiv when the Europa League resumes. Here's what we know about them.
Metalist Kharkiv have had a recent break in form. Their last match, a friendly, resulted in a draw with Whitley Bay. Their last competitive match was a 1-0 loss in Europa play to Rapid Wein. Before that though, Metalist had won four straight matches in the Ukrainian Premiere League, including a 5-0 thrashing of Tavriya.
The problem? Those matches, save the friendly, all happened last year. Metalist haven't played a competitive match since December 6, 2012. It is hard to get a grasp on how dangerous Metalist have been. Their recent run of form tells us how they finished the first half of their season, but may not have much bearing on Thursday's match. Their friendly with Whitley Bay offered up little in terms of scouting; Metalist being more interested in getting everyone minutes on the pitch than anything. One report said that Metalist became the more dominant side as the match progressed, but given that Whitley Bay play in the Northern Football League, a league for semi-professional teams, this is hardly surprising.
What we can look at was who was doing the scoring for Metalist before their break and assume the Ukrainian side will lean on those players to produce some goals in the next two games.
Metalist's leading scorer last season, Marko Devic, left the club and joined Shakhtar Donetsk. His absence has been filled by two South American players. First, Argentine striker Jonathan Cristaldo has 8 goals in the Premiership. Brazilian Cleiton Xavier has tallied 7 goals in league play, and is one of the leading goal scorers in the Europa League with 4 goals. Xavier scored in four of Metalist's six group stage matches (the other two games, Metalist were shut out).
Defensively, Metalist appear to be stout. They gave up only three goals in the group stage. In 18 league games, they've only given up 15 goals. Only two teams have conceded fewer times this season.
It would seem that Metalist can score and can defend. They are a solid team. Though Newcastle is tipped as the favorite, the Magpies should not take Metalist lightly if they wish to advance. That, to me, is the biggest question of these two legs. I linked this earlier, but by all accounts, the Europa League is not Newcastle's priority. Finances dictate that Newcastle should aim to stay in the Premiere League and not try for European glory. For Metalist, they are secured in their position in the Ukrainian Premiere League and can focus on this competition if they like. Perhaps they view these two matches as a way to warm up for when their season resumes in March, or maybe they see it as their own chance for European glory. Line-ups and tactics will tell us more about who values what in this competition. Until then, we make our best guesses on two-month old stats.