PORTO 0 NEWCASTLE 0
First there was Aleksandar Mitrovic’s move to Fulham. And then there was Florian Lejeune’s long-term injury. Yet Newcastle United’s defensive performance at the Estadio do Dragao was newsworthy in itself.
Rafa Benitez’s side drew 0-0 against Porto, the Portuguese champions, on Saturday night.
Newcastle spent most of the game on the back foot. Try as they might, Porto, however, just couldn’t score.
United blocked and tackled, and Martin Dubravka and substitute goalkeeper Karl Darlow made some important saves.
DeAndre Yedlin cleared another effort off the line, while the woodwork also saved Newcastle twice in the second half.
Fabian Schar, signed from Deportivo La Coruna last week, also played his part. But will Lejeune, facing a long lay-off after suffering a cruciate ligament injury, play any part for United this season? Lejeune’s injury has left Benitez short in defence and needing to recruit another defender between now and the August 9 transfer deadline.
The club has a lot of work to do in the transfer market – but does Benitez have enough time and money?
Benitez and his players, so resilient last term, have been working on shape and organisation in pre-season, and it showed at the Estadio do Dragao.
Newcastle were playing a Champions League team in their own stadium. It was a friendly, but the tempo and intensity of the game was anything but sedate.
Then there was the 40,000-plus crowd, which included around 1,000 from Tyneside, at the stunning Estadio do Dragao.
The life and career of Sir Bobby Robson – who led Porto to successive league titles in the mid-1990s before taking charge of Barcelona – was celebrated before United’s first game at the stadium.
As the stadium filled up, it emerged that Mitrovic had left Portugal after less than 24 hours in the country. Mitrovic had returned to England to complete a £20million move to Fulham that afternoon, and Benitez fielded Joselu up front against Porto.
Joselu, however, saw little of the ball. United just couldn’t get it off their hosts long enough to put any sustained pressure on Sergio Conceicao’s energetic and inventive team.
Dwight Gayle, maybe tellingly, didn’t make it off the bench.
Porto dominated the first half, and Jamaal Lascelles blocked a shot from Yacine Brahimi. There was more pressure from Porto after the break.
Sergio Oliveira struck the post with a free-kick in the 55th minute. Dubravka stopped a follow-up effort from Vincent Aboubakar.
Francisco Soares also struck the woodwork before Schar came on for his debut.
Dubravka stopped a header from Soares, and Darlow also made a late save.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Dubravka (Darlow, 72); Yedlin (Sterry, 62), Clark (Schar, 62), Lascelles, Dummett (Manquillo, 46); Diame (Hayden, 72), Shelvey (Ki, 62); Ritchie (Roberts, 72), Perez (Longstaff, 72), Murphy (Atsu, 72); Joselu (Armstrong, 72). Subs not used: Elliot, Yarney, Fernandez, Gayle.