Newcastle’s UCL humbling offers pre-Mourinho era omen despite Howe’s ability to overdeliver

Lewis Oldham
Dortmund vs Newcastle
Dortmund take the lead against Newcastle United.

Newcastle United’s second humbling against Dortmund proves Eddie Howe is a victim of their speedy success before Jose Mourinho is inevitably called upon to take over the mantle…


Eddie Howe’s game plan for Newcastle‘s trip to Dortmund was clear from the get-go.

Sit back and ride out pressure with the help of the added defensive cover provided by Tino Livramento and Joe Willock as unconventional wingers; take the sting out of the game when Dortmund attacks break down; and if you’re still in it with 20 minutes to go, Anthony Gordon and Miguel Almiron can be brought on to chase the hosts’ weary defenders down in search of a smash-and-grab victory.

And this plan worked a treat… for 25 minutes.

Dortmund were hammered 4-0 by Bayern Munich and hat-trick scorer Harry Kane over the weekend. For Newcastle, this was the worst thing that could have happened as the Bundesliga side were fired up for Tuesday night’s vital Group F clash.

Edin Terzić’s side – with the assistance of lively duo Julian Brandt and Karim Adeyemi – had Newcastle on the back foot from the opening whistle as the Premier League outfit had to rely on the rare counter-attack and set-piece for their openings.

The pressure from Dortmund told in the 25th minute as Niclas Fullkrug placed the ball into the roof of the net following a precise pull-back from ex-Manchester United midfielder Marcel Sabitzer.

This goal forced Howe to tear up his pre-match script for this game as Gordon and Almiron were brought on at the break.

As Newcastle proved with their Jekyll and Hyde showing against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup, these attacking half-time changes set up a switch of mindset from the visitors.

Newcastle headed into their fourth Champions League group game knowing this Dortmund match was a must-not-lose kind of fixture and with them trailing at the break, Howe’s half-time team talk would have sounded something like: ‘F*** it, let’s have a go.’

Eddie Howe on the touchline.

And they did just that as a startled Dortmund did not cope with the adjustment too well to begin with.

Newcastle really should have equalised in the 55th minute as Livramento – who is going to be sensational in a few years – put in a delightful teasing cross to Joelinton, who gave us flashbacks of the not-so-good days when he was an underperforming £40m striker as he headed wide from inside the six-yard box.

As they did in the reverse fixture at St James’ Park two weeks ago, Newcastle huffed and puffed in search of an equaliser. But to put it bluntly, they succumbed to a better team.

A poor corner from Kieran Trippier resulted in the ball being cleared to Brandt, who led a two-on-one breakaway against Livramento. The Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur-linked forward has blossomed into a classy operator and he unsurprisingly made no mistake on the counter-attack as his shot beat Nick Pope and nestled in the bottom corner to take the game away from Newcastle.

And with that, the Magpies’ Champions League journey (for this season, at least) is nearing an end with six points likely required from their final two group games against PSG and AC Milan to give themselves any hope of progression.

After being placed in this season’s group of death, picking four points up from their first two fixtures would have been a start beyond Newcastle’s wildest dreams. But in the two meetings with Dortmund, the English outfit have been taught a Champions League lesson that they are not good enough to pass at this stage.

Newcastle have come a long way in a very short time as they were firmly in a Premier League relegation battle when their Saudi-backed takeover was completed just two years ago.

PIF will no doubt have huge optimism surrounding their Newcastle project, but even they would not have expected the club’s return to the Champions League to come this soon.

Howe and his staff deserve immense credit for having Newcastle way ahead of schedule as they are getting the absolute maximum out of what is – on paper – still a pretty limited squad with a lack of top-quality depth.

Everyone associated with Newcastle will have loved every second of their European journey, but they have been a victim of their own rapid success as this current squad has a lot of developing to do before it’s capable of consistently living with (and besting) seasoned Champions League sides like Borussia Dortmund.

The Howe era under PIF will prove to be a small slice of Newcastle’s overall rise to supremacy, with it surely only a matter of time before he is replaced by Jose Mourinho.

Howe may not be the man for Newcastle in the long term, but he’s still doing an immense job. And getting the club to this stage will already – in hindsight – have been an integral learning experience.

This Champions League campaign was always going to be an overdue gift to their long-suffering supporters who were denied such joy through Mike Ashley’s time in charge. And while they look set to come up short this time around, this does not alter their upward trajectory with them – like Man City – bound to join the elite group of clubs who consistently contest for trophies domestically and in Europe. Money talks and it is inevitable…