Alan Pardew

By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter

Newcastle take on Benfica for the very first time on Thursday evening and Alan Pardew has admitted that he's "really looking forward" to coming up against the Portuguese giants.

The United boss has been to the wonderful Estadio da Luz as a spectator, but never to manage a team - until now.

Lisbon is one of his favourite cities and he expects the thousands of supporters who have made the trip to also fall in love with the place. However, he knows that only one thing really matters to them: a good result in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-final clash.

"I'm really looking forward to it," he said as he looked ahead to the game against the Portuguese league leaders.

"I've been a visitor here before and it's a fantastic spectacle with the eagle flying around and the atmosphere. It's a terrific place to watch football and this year they've been absolutely brilliant. We hope to put a spoke in their wheels.

"I don't think we need more of a sense of occasion than this stadium and this club. It's a fantastic club, we're privileged to be here and play against Benfica.

"For our fans, this competition has brought some welcome relief to what has been a sticky Premier League campaign and we're still suffering from injuries as we enter this game.

"There'll be no Cheick Tiote, no (Fabricio) Coloccini, no (Hatem) Ben Arfa or Massadio (Haidara), so we're missing big players. We've missed big players all year but our fans have been consistently brilliant and they'll bring a nice atmosphere to the city."

Pardew knows that his side face a crucial Barclays Premier League home fixture against Fulham on Sunday (tickets are available here), and earlier in the season he fielded some of his fringe players in Europe.

But in the last eight of a European competition, the Magpies manager insists he will start with his strongest available team - and then do the same against the Cottagers three days later.

"We've had criticism for not taking the Europa League seriously and a couple of journalists even suggested that we were now taking the Europa League too seriously to the detriment of our league position," he said.

"But we're not taking anything over one competition. We're trying to enter every game to win. We've not been at full strength for a lot of games this year and again, I don't think I'm at full strength.

"But we're trying and we've been honest in our performances."

Tickets for the second leg against Benfica are on sale now - click here to buy