If Newcastle United are going to do it this year, looks like fate has handed them the hard way.
Three cup draws so far this season, one in the Champions League, the other two in the Carabao Cup and they’ve picked out the hat alongside some of the toughest opponents European football could offer.
It’s fair to say the Magpies are back on the big stage.
Battles to come may well be of the more challenging sort, but how did they navigate their way past arguably the toughest of them all? Here’s an analysis of five key points to take from Eddie Howe’s first ever victory over Pep Guardiola.
Flashes of Brazilian brutality and beauty return to United midfield
It was a surprise to hear that Joelinton passed a fitness test a few days ago, with Howe throwing him in for a full 97-minute shift against City. But his physicality was a real thorn in the opposition’s side, so much so Guardiola was visibly irked by his combative approach, particularly in the second half.
If Big Joe was the beast, partner-in-crime, on and off the field, Bruno Guimaraes was the beauty.
His introduction at half time flipped this one on its head, allowing Newcastle to wrestle some control where they previously had none. He really is edging his way back to somewhere near his best.
Championship defence? Critics answered
All four were out of this world, with Dummett’s reading of the game, Lascelles’ aerial dominance, Livramento’s energy going both ways and Targett’s best performance since he signed permanently real plus points for Howe, particularly in a department that has looked a little vulnerable to an injury or two.
New boys assessed - two find it tough
As previously mentioned, Livramento was hands down the best player on the park. He took no encouragement to get involved in every attack as well as ensuring he was barely beatable, even as he tired at the death, against often the double threat on the City left.
By contrast, it was a tougher day for Newcastle’s other two players who made their first senior start in black and white.
Lewis Hall and Lewis Miley’s time will come at United, of that there is no doubt, but it was not last night. Chelsea loanee Hall endured a particularly tough night, shifted from pillar to post by Howe in order for him to find some rhythm. He couldn’t and was taken off at the break.
It was a little more positive for Miley but against a firing City midfield including Champions League winners galore it was a tough test and lesson for the young Geordie. As mentioned, their time will come, though.
Attacking threat needed? Turn to Flash Gordon
Yeah, not the 1980s super hero, this one is a Scouser with flashes of sunkissed blonde in his hair and fire in his boots.
Anthony Gordon was again in line for a rest, as Howe looked to rotate. But cometh the hour of need, cometh the man - and as is becoming the norm these days, he yet again delivered.
Newcastle are a better attacking unit when he is in it - and if Gareth Southgate doesn’t name him in his next England senior squad, I’m not sure the bloke knows football. Of course, from a selfishly Newcastle perspective, he could probably do with an international break rest!
Priorities? Howe reveals his cards
I think it’s fair to say after this one, Howe has the Carabao Cup at the bottom of his priority list. You don’t make ten changes to the side if this one is at the top of your pile.
It says a lot about the quality, commitment and drive within the group that they can adapt to the challenge and ultimately conquer arguably the best club side on the planet.
With a run of games including Arsenal and Dortmund in and around the next round trip to Old Trafford, it’ll be interesting to see what Howe does with his team.