Newcastle United’s back four will be crucial as they try to take a giant step towards the Europa League knockout stages against Club Brugge.
The leading two teams in Group D will do battle in Newcastle on Thursday and the home side’s manager Alan Pardew knows another clean sheet should help his side cement their position at the top of the group.
Newcastle have yet to concede in the group stage of this season’s Europa League and with second-placed Brugge having scored just twice so far, while letting in four goals, Pardew’s side looms as the clear favourite.
Despite their fortitude in Europe, injuries to key defensive pillars, goalkeeper Tim Krul and captain Fabricio Coloccini, have meant Newcastle have conceded 12 goals in eight English Premier League games.
But although those two have returned from injury, Pardew remains committed to playing his youngsters, like full-back Shane Ferguson, in the continental competition.
“The manager has been really good to me this season, giving me a lot of chances, and hopefully I’m taking them,” Ferguson told UEFA.com.
Club Brugge enter the clash on the back of their first defeat of the season in the Belgian First Division after losing 4-1 away to OH Leuven, while Newcastle drew 1-1 against north-east rivals Sunderland.
In Group I, last season’s finalists Athletic Bilbao need to kick-start their campaign having picked up just one point in two games but face a tough task with a trip to group-leaders Lyon.
Lyon have won both their games in Group I so far, making it five victories in their past eight matches across all competitions.
The French club defeated Brest 1-0 on Sunday thanks to a goal from Bafetimbi Gomis, who has seven striker this season.
Bilbao lost 3-2 away to Valencia in the latest round of La Liga and have only one victory in their past seven games.
Borussia Moenchengladbach are another of the bigger clubs in the Europa League who desperately need a win, with the German side bottom of Group C with one draw to their name, while Sporting Lisbon are in a similar position in Group G ahead of their trip to leaders Genk.
Gladbach host Marseille, who have faltered after their stunning start to the Ligue 1 season, losing two of their past three in France, while the German hosts are struggling, sitting 13th in the Bundesliga.
In other notable matches, Napoli must travel to Ukraine to take on Group F leaders Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Liverpool will welcome Guus Hiddink’s Anzhi Makhachkala to England in Group A.
Elsewhere, Inter Milan host Partizan Belgrade in Group H, while Group J leaders Lazio are up against Panathinaikos and Levante play Twente in Group L.