Newcastle ‘have to believe’ in star-studded Champions League group – Eddie Howe
Eddie Howe has told his Newcastle players they have to believe they can top their Champions League group after being pitched into battle with three of Europe’s giants.
The Magpies, who will play in the competition for the first time in 20 years this season, will face French champions Paris St Germain, seven-times winners AC Milan and 1997 champions Borussia Dortmund as they attempt to reach the last 16.
Nevertheless, TV pundit Owen Hargreaves, a Champions League winner with both Bayern Munich and Manchester United, insisted after the draw the Magpies could emerge from Group F as winners “if they get it right”.
Howe said: “You have to believe that, yes. I’m not necessarily sure that should be the expectation, but I think we can.
“I’ll let other people talk about what can and can’t happen. All I’m really focused on is what we can do internally, and that’s be our best.
“Going back to the Liverpool game, for a long part of that game, I thought we were really, really good and you can still lose the game against high-quality opposition if you switch off for a couple of moments like we did, so we’re going to be feeling those effects again against elite teams.
“We’re going to have to be concentrated and at our best right through the game to win.”
Howe watched Thursday evening’s draw, which handed summer signing Sandro Tonali a return to former club Milan, with his staff and while there was a realism in their reaction, there was excitement too.
Asked what their response had been, the 45-year-old said with a smile: “There was a bit of silence… for about an hour. No, there was silence for about 10 seconds.”
He added: “When the dust settles down, you look at it with pure excitement, really. There’s no negativity from any of us internally towards the draw.
“When you add it all together, I think it’s been a great thing.”
For all the understandable excitement on Tyneside, Howe will push the Champions League to the back of his mind in the short term at least with important Premier League fixtures to come at Brighton on Saturday and then against Brentford at St James’ Park after the international break before the Magpies launch their European adventure.
He said: “I don’t want to dampen it down, but the Premier League is huge for us and we still have games before the Champions League starts, so the Champions League will only really come into my focus when it’s our next game.”
Defender Sven Botman is a doubt for the trip to the Amex Stadium having undergone a scan on the ankle he damaged during last weekend’s 2-1 defeat by Liverpool, as is midfielder Joelinton with a knee problem.
Meanwhile, Howe has admitted his players may need to stay away from Newcastle city centre late at night after club captain Jamaal Lascelles was caught up in a violent incident in which he appeared to be acting as peacemaker.
He said: “It would be nice in theory for us to be in the city centre with our people, but the reality is it’s probably not the best place for us to exist late at night.”
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