Eddie Howe has refused to rule out the possibility of Newcastle winning the Champions League this season after an inspiring chat with Kevin Keegan on Monday night.
“You have to be a dreamer,” said the coach as Borussia Dortmund flew to Tyneside for their Group F game at St James’ Park on Wednesday evening. “My goal and our goal is to win a trophy. I’m not afraid to say that, no matter what competition we play in.”
Howe met Keegan, one of his Newcastle predecessors, at a book launch in the city and was not discouraged when Keegan suggested his old club was capable of winning Europe’s showpiece trophy.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on my players,” Howe said. “But when you enter a competition, you have to try to win it.”
With Newcastle top of Group F with a 4-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain at St James’ Park in their final Champions League game, Howe has reason to be cautiously optimistic about a Dortmund team adjusting to life without Jude Bellingham got used to it and barely recovered from the disappointment and missed out on the German title last season.
Edin Terzic’s team are unbeaten in the Bundesliga but only have one European Cup point, so this is a crucial game. Howe is accordingly cautious. “This is a crucial game in the group, it is crucial,” he said. “It will be a thorough examination of ourselves, a severe test. We had a good start, but we’re not making any progress. We’re still learning – it’s only our third Champions League game.
“PSG was a great result for us, but we know the quality of Dortmund. We need to gain PSG’s confidence but forget about it. We need to restore the level of intensity and attention we had against PSG, but that is difficult.”
Although Sandro Tonali has trained with Howe’s squad this week, the Italian midfielder is expected to receive a lengthy ban within the next 24 hours for breaching Italy’s betting regulations.
While Howe waits to learn Tonali’s fate, he has been boosted by Joe Willock’s return to fitness after a lengthy absence with hamstring and Achilles tendon injuries. Willock is expected to start on the bench and his midfield colleague Sean Longstaff couldn’t be happier.
“I could sit here all day and tell you how good Joe Willock is,” Longstaff said. “He is so important to us. Nobody on our team can do what he does with the ball; We play better with him.”
Longstaff, who was too modest to discuss the growing clamor for his own inclusion in the England squad, is also a staunch Tonali fan. “It’s strange that people ask if he’s happy to be here because within the group we see how happy he is, how he laughs and jokes with everyone,” he said. “We always talked about how good he is, then he comes through the door. It was a privilege to be around him and watch what he did.”
Even if Newcastle are without Tonali at kick-off, Terzic will not underestimate Howe’s players. “They have built a great team,” said the Dortmund coach. “Newcastle is an exceptional place to play with its audience and we expect a warm welcome! We need the points, but we will need a very good performance.”