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Newcastle face Champions League reality check

AFP – Newcastle must overcome the might of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and a mounting injury list if the Magpies’ first foray into the Champions League for 20 years is not to come to a premature end tomorrow.

Damaging back-to-back defeats to Borussia Dortmund have left Eddie Howe’s men sitting bottom of a devilishly difficult Group F, also featuring last season’s semi-finalists AC Milan.
Newcastle must avoid defeat in the French capital to have any chance of reaching the last 16.

Qualification looked well within the grasp of Howe’s side when they humbled PSG 4-1 on Tyneside in October.

But things have since unravelled for Newcastle as an injury crisis has taken its toll despite the club being backed by the riches of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.

Contrary to expectations, Newcastle did not splash their newfound wealth extravagantly in the transfer window by the standards of top Premier League sides.

The club’s one marquee summer signing, Sandro Tonali, has been slapped with a 10-month ban for breaching betting rules during his time with Milan.

ABOVE & BELOW: Newcastle and Paris Saint-Germain players vie for the ball; and Olivier Giroud celebrates after scoring a goal. PHOTO: AFP
PHOTO: AFP

Harvey Barnes has spent most of the campaign out injured since his switch from Leicester, while young full-backs Lewis Hall and Tino Livramento have only been pressed into action in recent weeks due to injuries to others.

The decision to be more conservative in the transfer market is now coming back to bite, even if Newcastle showed remarkable resolve to thrash Chelsea 4-1 on Saturday without 13 first-team players.

Sven Botman, Dan Burn, Callum Wilson, Joe Willock and Sean Longstaff are among the other key players likely to miss out again at the Parc des Princes.

Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud will carry AC Milan’s Champions League hopes on his broad shoulders when the veteran striker lines up against Borussia Dortmund at the San Siro tomorrow. Giroud has been the man for the big occasion since signing for Milan just over two years ago and the seven-time European champions will need his magic touch as they face a key Group F clash off-form and struggling with injuries.

The 37-year-old has scored eight times for Milan this season and reignited their hopes of reaching the last 16 with a trademark headed winner over PSG earlier this month, his only goal in the competition so far coming when it really mattered.

Giroud wants to prolong his career at Milan, where he has had a hugely successful Indian summer, winning Serie A in 2022 and starring in last season’s run to the Champions League semi-finals.

“I would like to stay. My contract expires next summer but I haven’t spoken to the club about it,” said Giroud in a recent interview with Le Journal du Dimanche.

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