The obvious lessons Newcastle United must learn quickly as Champions League adventure continues

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Newcastle United are experienced a wide range of emotions during the first half of their first Champions League group stage campaign in two decades.

The midway point of Newcastle United’s first Champions League group stage campaign offers a perfect opportunity for reflection and resetting expectations.

When the Magpies were the final ball out of the pot and placed in what many see as the ‘Group of Death’, plenty scoffed at their chances to progress. Some predicted Eddie Howe’s side, with barely a smattering of Champions League experience and a plethora of novices, pitted against such esteemed opposition, would be outclassed - even embarrassed.

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There can be no doubt the Magpies were outplayed in what was the steepest of learning curves on the opening night of the competition as an inspired Nick Pope performance preserved a clean sheet and ensured a point was secured despite a grueling test in the cavernous San Siro against AC Milan.

Matchday two brought the return of Champions League group stage football to Tyneside for the first time since Barcelona claimed a 2-0 win at St. James’ Park, against a Newcastle side containing Alan Shearer, Kieran Dyer and Laurent Robert.

This time, the visiting giant was vanquished amid a maelstrom of pride, passion and power on and off the pitch as 52,000 Magpies supporters watched on in awe as their side romped to a 4-1 win against Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain on a night for the ages.

This was the night when the Magpies ‘Class of 23’ announced their arrival on European football’s biggest stage as Geordie duo Sean Longstaff and Dan Burn - two players that had come out on opposite ends of academy calls earlier in their careers - found the net and set alight St. James’ Park.

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There was even a tip of the cap to Howe’s ability to bring the best out of players as Miguel Almiron and Fabian Schar - two players he inherited from predecessor Steve Bruce - were also on target as Kylian Mbappe suffered a demoralising night at the Gallowgate.

Matchday three, the midway point, brought something of a reality check for Howe, his coaching staff and the men in black and white. St. James’ Park felt strangely subdued as the boisterous performance in the stands that inspired the heroics against PSG was conspicuous by its absence.

abian Schar of Newcastle United celebrates with teammates after scoring the team's fourth goal during the UEFA Champions League match between Newcastle United FC and Paris Saint-Germain at St. James Park on October 04, 2023 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)abian Schar of Newcastle United celebrates with teammates after scoring the team's fourth goal during the UEFA Champions League match between Newcastle United FC and Paris Saint-Germain at St. James Park on October 04, 2023 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
abian Schar of Newcastle United celebrates with teammates after scoring the team's fourth goal during the UEFA Champions League match between Newcastle United FC and Paris Saint-Germain at St. James Park on October 04, 2023 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images) | Getty Images

The nerves seemed to filter through to the players as Howe’s mantra of ‘intensity is our identity’ was not adhered to and his side seemed to suffer something of an identity crisis. That, in no small part, should be put down to an impressive away display from German giants Borussia Dortmund.

The Bundesliga side played with intelligence and control on a night when their hosts struggled to find the rhythm that has provided so many positive points in the opening months of the season. Dortmund, despite losing the influential Emre Can, played like the experienced Champions League competitors they are, making the most of what was clearly clever analysis of the Magpies.

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Bruno Guimaraes and Kieran Trippier, so often the foundations for many of United’s most significant moments, were nullified. Anthony Gordon, a threat in patches, was eventually quietened, despite providing the energy and drive that so many of his team-mates failed to provide.

There was little between the two sides on the scoresheet when the full-time whistle was blown, with a Felix Nmecha goal handing the points to the visitors. Newcastle, despite their struggles, could have easily shared the spoils and remained unbeaten as Callum Wilson and Gordon both struck the woodwork in the final quarter of an hour.

Full-time brought large swathes of disappointment but also a clear determination to learn from the defeat. Howe was wholesome in his praise for his players, saying: “We’re still in a very good position in the Premier League and Champions League. (The Dortmund away game) is going to be hugely important. The next two away games, the league table looks very, very tight so they are great games for us, we have to approach them like that.

“Our lads are very honest and very focused on trying to win and achieve, there are some tired bodies and we have to recover for Wolves.”

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AFP via Getty Images

He is right - this Newcastle side have shown they can rise to the challenge and learn from chastening experiences during his time in charge at St. James’ Park. Howe and his coaching staff will use the first three games of the competition to formulate their plans for the second half of the campaign.

Just as the Carabao Cup Final defeat to Manchester United provided the basis for an unrelenting display in a Premier League win over the Red Devils just over a month later, so too can the learning curve provided by a difficult night in the San Siro and Wednesday’s Dortmund defeat.

Newcastle are still learning at the highest level, where mistakes are punished and uncertainty to pounced upon, and their players will be better for the experiences, both good and bad, they have experienced over all three games.

The same can be said of their manager and his coaching staff, who began their careers fighting a battle to preserve Bournemouth’s Football League status and keep the Cherries alive. Howe has consistently adapted and improved throughout the coaching career, taking Bournemouth from the basement of League Two to bloodying the noses of English football’s biggest clubs.

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That learning curve will continue over the coming weeks and months - but Howe and his players have done more than enough to deserve the time, patience and understanding of everyone connected with the club as they look to continue their Champions League adventure.

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