Alan Pardew admits Newcastle need to step up against Anzhi
Alan Pardew admits Newcastle will have to negotiate a significant step up in class if they are to book a place in the Europa League quarter-finals.
The Magpies face big-spending Anzhi Makhachkala at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Thursday evening as they attempt to give themselves a foothold in their last-16 tie. However, having seen them dispose of Metalist Kharkiv courtesy of an impressive 1-0 second-leg victory in Ukraine, Pardew knows the stakes will be even higher in Russia.
He said: "It would be massive if we could beat this team because they are a really strong side. It's really now down to where every team left in that Europa League now is focusing on it probably as their primary objective. I can't think of too many clubs in it for whom it's not at the top of their agenda, so there's now a real focus on that competition."
In some ways, Europe has, until very recently, served as a distraction for Newcastle, who had to combine their efforts in the continental competition with a desperate fight to stay clear of the relegation places in the Barclays Premier League as a squad left thin by a frugal summer spending mission was cruelly exposed.
The club are still too close for comfort to the bottom three - the latest round of fixtures left them six points clear of the drop zone - but the addition of five January signings has sparked a genuine improvement and Pardew is confident they can now give Europe a real go.
However, his caution over their latest opponents is well founded with Anzhi a different proposition to what has gone before. Guus Hiddink's side have won all seven of the European home games they have played and currently sit in second place in the Russian top flight, just two points adrift of leaders CSKA Moscow.
Hiddink will know Newcastle from his brief spell in England, when he guided Chelsea to a 2-0 league victory at St James' Park in April 2009 in the first game of Alan Shearer's brief reign as manager.
The Magpies, of course, were relegated a few weeks later and only four of the 14 players who took part in that game - Steve Harper, Ryan Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez - remain on the Tyneside books. Of that quartet, only Gutierrez is likely to be involved in Moscow because of injuries to the others.
However, Pardew will be able to call upon a trio of men who more than most have led the fightback which has eased the club's domestic fears in recent weeks. The return of defender Steven Taylor from injury and the recruitment of Toulouse midfielder Moussa Sissoko have been crucial, as has playmaker Yohan Cabaye's resumption after groin surgery.
Pardew said: "He (Cabaye) has been the most influential player we have had on return, closely followed by Steven and Moussa. Those three really have lifted the club massively."
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