First for Newcastle United, the good news: at least after the 90 minutes against Benfica are over in Portugal on Thursday night, the Toon Army will be able to say they have played more European games at the Stadium of Light than Sunderland.
With the two due to meet in the most crucial of Tyne-Wear derbies in the Premier League in a couple of weekends’ time, that will give the Newcastle fans plenty of ammunition (not that they need any after the events of this week).
But the fact that all those connected with Newcastle will be thinking about that game far more than the Europa League tells you everything you need to know about where this quarter-final tie is heading.
Because here is the bad news for Newcastle: their Europa League adventure is going to end at the last-eight stage, because Benfica – the English pair of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur apart – are the worst team the Magpies could have faced at this stage and it would take a brave man to say that the Portuguese side will not progress.
That said, is it really bad news? You would think so on the face of it, but manager Alan Pardew would happily get beat 10-0 on aggregate if it meant Premier League survival would be assured for another season.
And with plenty of work still to do on that score, I don’t see the former West Ham boss deviating too far from his Europa League strategy of rotating his squad, prioritising the Premier League above all else.
Given they are just three points above the drop zone, even being in the last eight in Europe will not change that attitude.
After their transfer activity in January, I expected Newcastle to kick on and climb the table but it hasn’t happened and for Pardew, the home clash with Fulham on Sunday is the be all and end all of this week and I see another much-changed team taking the field at the Stadium of Light.
With all that in mind, I think Benfica are absolute bankers here. They are 9/20 to win the match, with the draw at 333/100 and Newcastle a 23/4 chance, but it is a home win here all day long.
Pardew has done brilliantly to navigate Newcastle this far when he has hardly given the competition a second’s thought, but that is partially because the standard of their opponents (Metalist, Anzhi, Maritimo) have largely been mediocre.
Benfica represents a real step up in quality and they can make that count by beating the Toon without conceding a goal, which is priced at 6/5 with bwin and offers winnings of £44 for new customers backing it with their free £20 bet after registering.
The Portuguese giants are top of their domestic league, four points ahead of Porto, and are regulars on the European scene in both the Champions and Europa Leagues.
On top of that, their form of late has been sensational: Jorge Jesus’ side have lost just once – on penalties – in their last 33 matches in all competitions, a run stretching back to October.
Unbeaten in the league, Benfica have won all four of their Europa League matches since dropping down from the Champions League and have won 15 of their last 16 home games, drawing the other with Porto.
Nine of those games have been won to nil, and Benfica have kept seven clean sheets in their 12 home league games this year.
Newcastle have struggled to score on their travels in Europe, netting just four goals in six away ties, and with all eyes on Fulham on Sunday, I see the motivated hosts having too much.
The 6/5 on Benfica winning to nil is much better value than the 9/20, but make no mistake – they will be taking a lead back to St James’ Park.