Anthony Gordon blossoming at Newcastle ahead of key Champions League game at Dortmund

Newcastle star Anthony Gordon celebrate after their 1-0 over Arsenal.[X,Courtesy]

Following in the footsteps of soccer greats Luis Figo, Andrea Pirlo and Fabio Cannavaro can never be a bad thing.

That's what Anthony Gordon did last summer when he was the player of the tournament at the European Under-21 Championship after leading England to the title.

It was a sign that he was ready to make that step from being a talented but lightweight and prickly winger to a consistent mainstay of a club competing for honors, and so it has proved.

Gordon is enjoying a breakthrough season at Newcastle, so much so that it won't be a surprise if he plays as a center forward at some point on Tuesday during the team's pivotal Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park.

It's quite the leap from this time last year, when he was in and out of an Everton team headed for another campaign battling relegation from the English Premier League - or even six months ago when he was failing to earn starts at Newcastle as he struggled to adapt to the tactical demands of manager Eddie Howe.

Now Gordon is a regular starter at one of England's top clubs, putting in consistent performances and chipping in with goals - like the contentious winner against Arsenal on Saturday that sparked vitriol from visiting manager Mikel Arteta.

Away from the widespread frenzy about the merits or otherwise of VAR, that was a fourth goal of the season for Gordon, matching his total at club level in each of his past two seasons.

He'd just been redeployed as the central striker after Callum Wilson's substitution, reprising the role he performed for Newcastle in the 3-0 win at Manchester United in the English League Cup three days earlier and for England at the Under-21 Euros over June and July.

It's that versatility - he can play on either wing, too - that perhaps persuaded Newcastle to spend an initial 40 million pounds ($49.5 million) to sign him from Everton, his boyhood club, in January at a time when Chelsea appeared the favorite for his signature.

"I feel like it's a really big step," Gordon said at the time. "People haven't seen what I'm capable of yet."

Suddenly, it looks like money well spent by a team paid for by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund. Especially now that Newcastle has been hit with a lengthy list of injuries, including wingers Harvey Barnes and Jacob Murphy - who are likely out until the new year - and striker Alexander Isak. Sandro Tonali's 10-month ban for gambling has hardly helped the situation.

Key has been understanding what is required of him, with Gordon saying he was warned by Howe that it would take a while to get used to Newcastle's tactical set-up that was so different to what was expected of him at Everton.

Twelve of his 16 appearances for Newcastle last season came as a substitute. He has started all but one of the team's 11 league games this season.

Against Arsenal, Gordon's work rate was relentless as he tracked back to double up on danger man Bukayo Saka and regained possession seven times.

"It comes down to how the gaffer drills us in training each day," Gordon said. "It doesn't matter who plays - we all know the jobs we have to do and that creates a real togetherness."

He has also retained that feisty, in-your-face edge to him that winds up opposition players and fans alike, especially with his penchant for going to ground easily. He collected more bookings than goals in his previous two seasons and is on course to continue that streak this campaign with seven yellow cards already.

Gordon hasn't scored in Newcastle's three Champions League group games so far, which have featured contrasting performances by Howe's team. There was resilience in a 0-0 draw at AC Milan, flamboyance in a 4-1 win at home to Paris Saint-Germain, and then naivety in a 1-0 home loss to Dortmund that served as a reality check for a club playing in the Champions League for the first time in 20 years.

For the return match with Dortmund, both teams start on four points - two behind Kylian Mbappe's PSG and two ahead of Milan.

With a trip to Paris still to come, a loss in Germany would seriously hit Newcastle's chances of qualification. Howe said in a news conference on Monday he'd also be without Dan Burn potentially for the next two months because of a back injury.

Gordon might need to step up once again.

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