Throwback XI: Newcastle ’02/03 – the Magpies’ last Champions League side

As the Toon Army prepare to return to the Champions League, we take a look back at the Newcastle 2002/03 side – the last time they played in Europe’s premier competition.

Eddie Howe’s men enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2022/23. After rescuing the Magpies in 2021/22, Howe revitalised Tyneside with an assault on the top four.

Newcastle secured fourth place and Champions League football following a 0-0 draw with Leicester, earning them a spot in the group stage of the competition for the first time in two decades.

Most impressive was the team’s solid defence. The Toon conceded the joint-fewest goals in the Premier League last season, matching Man City with 33 GA. This resulted in Newcastle also equalling City’s league-best five defeats.

So, the pinnacle of club football awaits St James’ Park in 2023/24. But what did their team look like the last time they were in the Champions League? Today, we flashback to Newcastle’s second group stage match at home to Barcelona in March 2003.

Technically, this is Newcastle’s last proper UCL match. In August 2003, they did play two Champions League play-off games against Partizan Belgrade. Sadly, though, the Magpies did not make it through to the competition proper that year – so, we are using the 2002/03 squad here.

Goalkeeper and defence

52,000 fans packed into St James’ Park to witness their game against Barcelona 20 years ago. Between the sticks, Shay Given added to his club-leading 20 Champions League appearances.

The Irishman then had a traditional back four in front of him. Andy Griffin and Olivier Bernard played the full-back slots, with Titus Bramble and Andrew O’Brien at the heart of the defence.

Legendary manager Sir Bobby Robson will have chosen this defence with the hope of stopping Barcelona’s star-studded attack. The Catalans boasted talents such as Patrick Kluivert, Juan Roman Riquelme, and even a young Xavi.

The midfield

Some familiar faces were in the Newcastle midfield for their last Champions League game. Firstly, Kieron Dyer and Jermaine Jenas made for an all-English central midfield. These two got the nod in place of the late, great, Gary Speed, who was absent for the home clash with Barca.

At left midfield, Frenchman Laurent Robert started before being replaced by Shola Ameobi. Meanwhile, on the right side, Nolberto Solano also saw his number raised for a substitution. The Peruvian provided 14 goals and assists across all comps in 2002/03, with two of those coming in the Champions League.

The attack

To complete the 4-4-2 lineup were Newcastle’s two highest scorers in this particular campaign. Craig Bellamy, at just 22 years old, bagged seven goals and led the Toon with eight assists throughout the season.

He partnered with the legendary Alan Shearer up front. The Premier League’s all-time top scorer is also the leading Newcastle goal scorer in Champions League history. Sadly, though, the local hero drew a blank against Barcelona’s defence and Victor Valdes in net.

Sir Bobby Robson’s side ultimately came up short against his former club. Barca left the Northeast with a 2-0 win via goals from Kluivert and Thiago Motta.

This resulted in Newcastle suffering elimination at the second group stage – a now-defunct element of the UCL. They finished third in Group 1, behind Barcelona and Inter Milan, but ahead of Bayer Leverkusen.

Will Newcastle make it beyond the groups during their Champions League comeback? We have no doubt the fanbase will enjoy every second of their European adventure either way.

Featured image credit: Getty