Outclassed Newcastle left on the brink of anticlimactic Champions League exit

Newcastle slipped to defeat in Germany  (PA)
Newcastle slipped to defeat in Germany (PA)

Newcastle United waited 20 years to play in the Champions League again and it feels safe to predict that it will not take them two decades to return, but an adventure threatens to end early. As Borussia Dortmund did a double over Eddie Howe’s team, the destroyers of Paris Saint-Germain could see their own hopes in ruins. The casualties from the group of death might include Newcastle, and if so, this may go down as a game too far, rendering their task too tough.

They had beaten Manchester United and Arsenal with weakened teams but there was no treble. Dortmund had been eviscerated by an Englishman, after Harry Kane’s hat-trick in Der Klassiker, but not an English club. Newcastle found it altogether harder than Bayern Munich to prosper at the Signal Iduna Park. If Newcastle are a buying club and Dortmund a selling one, the Bundesliga side may derive particular pleasure from the identity of two of their three goalscorers over 180 minutes that have transformed the group: Felix Nmecha, bought when Jude Bellingham was sold, at St James’ Park and Niclas Fullkrug, perhaps a belated replacement for Erling Haaland, in the rematch.

This competition has the capacity to reward the unlikely lads, as Dan Burn and Sean Longstaff had shown for Newcastle, but they do not have a monopoly on tales of endearing rises from relatively humble origins. Fullkrug was more accustomed to scoring in the German second division but, at 30, he had a first Champions League goal to add to the two he scored in last year’s World Cup. Julian Brandt, the classiest player on the pitch, completed victory on home soil and Dortmund, so timid in their opening night defeat to PSG, have seven points in three games since then, the six accrued against Newcastle forged from sweat.

They shaded the first match and, while Howe’s men can rue the glorious chance Joelinton missed to level, were superior in the second. If Newcastle’s casualty list has suggested it should often have been a fine time to face them of late, Dortmund ensured it actually was.

The Yellow Wall was a wall of noise and the Dortmund tactics ones Newcastle may recognise: they can look for a similarly wholehearted effort but it was Edin Terzic’s team who started at speed, who exhibited the relentlessness Newcastle try to show, who wore their opponents down, who ended up with the counter-attacking goal. Perhaps United, their formation for once looking like 4-5-1, had handed their hosts the initiative. Howe had started with the overworked duo of Anthony Gordon and Miguel Almiron on the bench and Newcastle missed their dynamism. Their initial front three featured a player reinvented as a midfielder, in Joelinton, and a full-back, in Tino Livramento.

Dortmund had a winning balance. Brandt was often the prompter, Karim Adeyemi the roadrunner, with Fullkrug the battering ram. Each had a decisive impact. The opener came from a move in which Marcel Sabitzer and Fullkrug were twice involved, culminating in the Austrian centring for the striker to lift his shot into the roof of the net.

Newcastle were left to rue a chastening defeat (Reuters)
Newcastle were left to rue a chastening defeat (Reuters)

The clincher stemmed from a swift break. Perhaps it was a role reversal, with Adeyemi supplying the killer pass from the edge of his own box and Brandt running onto it but Livramento was isolated against two attackers. Brandt chose not to pass and fired past Nick Pope.

The goalkeeper had embarked on a damage-limitation exercise; he had denied Fullkrug and Adeyemi before the former broke the deadlock, Adeyemi and Brandt uniting subsequently. Yet the concern is that, for the third time in four Champions League games, he was Newcastle’s best player.

In the first half, their attacking threat stemmed solely from Kieran Trippier’s set-pieces. The opening 45 minutes made for a chastening Champions League bow for Lewis Hall. The teenager looked callow when he was booked for hauling back Fullkrug. He was removed at the break, Almiron coming on and Livramento reverting to right-back. In his preferred role, he delivered the enticing cross that Joelinton headed wastefully wide.

Newcastle now face an uphill struggle to reach the knockout stage (EPA)
Newcastle now face an uphill struggle to reach the knockout stage (EPA)

Yet apart from that, they mustered too little; certainly to beat a goalkeeper of Gregor Kobel’s calibre. They can wonder if it would have been different if they could call upon Alexander Isak, Sandro Tonali and Sven Botman, men bought with this kind of occasion in mind. They can note that their bench contained only eight players: two of them goalkeepers, three of them rookies. As Dortmund brought on Marco Reus, Newcastle introduced the 17-year-old Lewis Miley.

Theirs was scarcely a team sheet to explain the title of the world’s richest club. Their resources were stretched, their limitations apparent and their makeshift side outclassed.

Now they head to Paris, potentially to a game that ends their hopes of progress even before what had seemed a blockbuster tie against AC Milan at the end of the group. For Newcastle, it could be an anticlimactic finish.