ALAN Pardew claims it is harder for English teams to win the Europa League than the Champions League and has urged UEFA to reassess the format of a competition that is threatening to compromise Newcastle United's season.
The Magpies entertain Portuguese side Maritimo this evening knowing a victory will guarantee a place in the Europa League's knock-out phase.
By the time they negotiate their final group game against Bordeaux next month, Pardew's side will already have played eight European matches, yet they will only find themselves in the last 32 of a competition that has become increasingly convoluted in recent seasons.
While England's Champions League representatives tend to boast extensive squads that enable them to juggle the competing demands of domestic and continental competition, clubs like Newcastle often find it more of a struggle to succeed on more than one front. Consequently, Pardew believes the Europa League is the most difficult competition for any English side to win.
“I think it is harder for us, I genuinely do,” said the Newcastle manager. “The four Champions League teams have the finance to attack that competition with two squads really whereas we are attacking a competition which has much more games, a heavier schedule and a more difficult night on a Thursday. We also have a much reduced squad, so it is much more difficult for us.
“You only have to look at the other two clubs in the competition (Spurs and Liverpool) to see we're all having very similar seasons at the moment, and they are stronger clubs than us financially. It just goes to show that it makes a big impact on your Premier League situation.”
When Liverpool became the last English club to win the UEFA Cup or Europa League in 2001, they played 13 matches in order to lift the trophy.
If Newcastle are to follow suit in May, they will have negotiated 17 games, and they entered the competition at a later stage than Liverpool, who had to come through an extra preliminary round.
The introduction of a group stage has packed the pre-Christmas schedule, while the presence of eight Champions League drop-outs in the last 32 means the knock-out phase now comprises five rounds from February onwards.
The result is a cumbersome competition that has lost much of its lustre, with English clubs particularly badly handicapped given the number of domestic matches they have to play every season.
As a result, Pardew is not surprised there has been no English winner of the Europa League since the group stage was introduced, and the Magpies manager would like to see the competition revert to a purely knock-out format.
“I do think that, in the Premier League, we play a heavier schedule than most European leagues and I do think for Premier League teams, it is really difficult in this competition,” he said. “That is probably why we have not been that successful in it to some degree.
“I do feel that perhaps it needs to be looked at, although whether Spanish or German clubs have the same opinion, I am not sure. You want to be in a competition that gives you some sort of fighting chance in your own league, and this format is very difficult for Premier League teams.
“We all kind of know that as Premier League managers. It is whispered about all the time. All I heard during the summer was, 'Blimey – it is going to be tough for you next year'. Would I like to see the competition revert to knock-out? Personally, I would, yes.”
This season's tournament switches to knock-out in two games time, and Pardew is understandably keen to see his players book their place in the last 32 tonight rather than having to rely on a positive result from next month's trip to Bordeaux.
Win this evening, and Newcastle are guaranteed to progress; draw, and they will go through provided Club Brugge do not beat Bordeaux in Belgium. Lose, though, and they could find themselves having to win in France to remain in the competition.
“We've lost two home games in a row (against West Ham and Swansea) and that's not acceptable for us,” said Pardew. “So we need to make sure we win, and a win would obviously give us qualification so it's a big night for us.
“We entered the competition to try to win it, so qualification is really important. We didn't really have a philosophy of getting it over and done with, we just need to qualify, but if we can qualify with a game to spare, really that would be job done and we could all look forward to the next phase.”
Shola Ameobi is a doubt for tonight's game after injuring his groin, but Papiss Cisse should start after being forced to sit out last weekend's league game with Swansea because the Senegalese FA invoked FIFA's five-day ruling following the striker's withdrawal from international duty.
Fabricio Coloccini should also start tonight – the centre-half will miss Sunday's trip to Southampton as he serves the final game of his domestic suspension – while compatriot Jonas Gutierrez has also returned to full training and is available.