• Newcastle manager a frequent visitor to Lisbon
• 'We can get a good result here' – Pardew
As a fairly frequent visitor to Lisbon and someone with friends in the Portuguese capital, Alan Pardew has regarded previous trips to the Estádio da Luz to watch a Benfica side coached by a man named Jesus as almost akin to mini-pilgrimages.
Newcastle United's manager particularly enjoys watching the eagle which sits on the roof, then circles the stands just before kick-off at every home game. "It's a fantastic spectacle," he enthused. "And this ground is a terrific place to watch football."
Standing in the technical area as his team play Jorge Jesus's side in Thursday night's Europa League quarter-final will be a rather different proposition from simply admiring the magnificent statue of Eusébio outside the ground before enjoying the view from the posh seats, though. After winning 20 and drawing four of their Portuguese League fixtures, Benfica sit comfortably, formidably on top of their domestic table.
Happily for Newcastle fans, Pardew is not the type to be easily daunted by their compelling brand of tiki-taka. "There's never a mission impossible in football," he said. "We can get a good result here. And at St James' Park we can beat anybody. It will be difficult but we have no doubt we can beat Benfica at St James'. We overcame a very good Anzhi side, who are just as good as Benfica, in the last round."
Not that Pardew wants to be kicking off the return from a losing position – or even a goalless draw, which would mean the Portuguese side would require only a scoring draw to progress to the semi-final on away goals.
"Benfica's attacking options are varied," he said. "They have a lot of flair and their two full-backs are very progressive. They are difficult to contain. Keeping possession is going to be a key element for us but I would prefer us to score tomorrow night because, otherwise, we are going to have to defend very, very well."
As passengers being bussed to the Tynesiders' charter flight to Lisbon prepared to cross Newcastle airport's main runway en route to the plane, an urgent message to apply the brakes came over the radio. Within seconds a fast-accelerating Dubai-bound Emirates Boeing 777 hurtled past before taking off. "Wow, you wouldn't want to be hit by that," said someone as it disappeared into the sky. Pardew fears that unless Newcastle can keep hold of the ball they will be confronted by similarly high velocity pace and power in the shape of Jesus's players.
"We need more ambition than we had against Manchester City [where Newcastle lost 4-0 last Saturday] and we can't keep losing the ball," he acknowledged.
"It's a big, difficult test. Benfica have great momentum and confidence. That breeds its own success. Tomorrow we need to be sure that we leave ourselves a chance of winning the tie at St James' Park."
Pardew has been briefed about Jesus's team by Neil Lennon, whose Celtic side faced them in the Champions League earlier this season as well as his friend André Villas-Boas, Tottenham's Portuguese manager. "I know this city quite well and I've got some contacts here too, so we're well briefed," he said.
Although Newcastle will again be without the injured Hatem Ben Arfa, Fabricio Coloccini and Cheik Tioté, Tim Krul, who turned 25 on Wednesday, has recovered from an ankle injury and will return in goal. If he can help keep Oscar Cardozo, Benfica's key striker, and friends at bay Krul will surely remember it as a very happy birthday.
Newcastle (probable, 4-2-3-1): Krul; Simpson, S Taylor, Yanga-Mbiwa, Santon; Perch, Cabaye; Marveaux, Sissoko, Anita; Cissé
Benfica (probable, 4-2-3-1): Artur; M Pereira, Luisão, Garay, Melgarejo; Matic, C Pérez; Salvio, Lima, Ola John; Cardozo
Referee Antony Gautier (France)