Cheik Tioté is expected to start alongside Yohan Cabaye in the heart of Newcastle United's midfield against Metalist Kharkiv despite his arrest on suspicion of fraud in relation to driving offences on Tuesday.
The Ivorian, recently returned from the Africa Cup of Nations, was stopped by police near Newcastle's training ground and had his car, a £75,000 customised Chevrolet Camaro, seized. Tioté was later released without charge but Northumbria police have said inquiries are ongoing into a matter Newcastle regard as "private".
In contrast, Metalist Kharkiv's preparation has been pristine. The Ukrainian side arrived in north-east England on Friday, established a training base near Darlington and drew a friendly 1-1 with non-league Whitley Bay on Sunday.
After last playing competitively in early December – the winter break lasts three months in Ukraine – Metalist may be a little rusty but in recent weeks they have travelled to Dubai and southern Spain for warm-weather training camps. Alan Pardew is not underestimating the challenge posed by a team who finished top of a strong qualifying group also featuring Bayer Leverkusen. "This is a huge test for us," said Newcastle's manager, who nonetheless believes his recently reinforced side are capable of winning the Europa League. "We're going up a level in terms of opposition. No disrespect to Bordeaux, who won our group, but Metalist are a little bit stronger."
Although Newcastle are still not out of Premier League relegation danger, five January signings from France have improved results while raising optimism and with no domestic fixture this weekend, Pardew will field players he believes can win Thursday's first leg.
"My team will be the strongest it can be, we're trying to win the Europa League," he said. "We want more European nights at St James' Park. Getting through the group stage was tough for us and we don't want all that effort and hard work to go to waste."
Newcastle are without Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran, who are ineligible, but Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, the France international central defender acquired from Montpellier, will make his debut at the expense of either Steven Taylor or Fabricio Coloccini.
Metalist, whose technically proficient, short-passing squad is studded with South American players, may have sold their key striker, Taison to Shakhtar Donetsk for £12m this month but, under the management of Myron Markevich, who doubles as an accomplished pianist, they remain formidable opponents.
Newcastle United (4-2-3-1) Krul; Perch, Coloccini, Yanga-Mbiwa, Santon; Tioté, Cabaye; Marveaux, Sissoko, Gutierrez; Cissé
Metalist Kharkiv (4-3-3) Goryainov; Villagra, Gueye, Torsiglieri, Fininho; Torres, Xavier, Sosa; Cristaldo, Jaja, Willian