NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United appear to have been given a much-needed boost on the injuries front, after a frustrating January transfer window during which Premier League financial regulations meant they were unable to add new players.
Head coach Eddie Howe began January with hopes he would be able to strengthen his injury-ravaged squad. But the need to comply with strict Profit and Sustainability Rules meant the Magpies ultimately were unable to add any senior players to their ranks.
They did manage to sign Manchester City youngster Alfie Harrison on Feb. 1, and offloaded Javier Manquillo and Isaac Hayden. But the lack of any significant transfer activity appeared to leave Howe with limited options, after his squad limped through much of December and January with only 12 or 13 fit senior players available at any given time.
However, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. As the team prepared for a visit from Luton Town on Saturday, assistant coach Jason Tindall offered an intriguing update on the fitness of four key Newcastle players, all of whom were said to be in with an unexpected chance of facing the Hatters.
“There’s a potential for a couple of the lads to be involved who are getting closer,” said Tindall, standing in for Howe who was unavailable for his usual media duties because of illness. “It’s certainly getting better than it was a few weeks ago.
“You’ve obviously got Harvey Barnes and Callum Wilson coming back, and you’ve also got Joe Willock who’s pretty close. Whether they’ll be fit enough to be involved (against Luton), we’ll have to make that decision after training.
“There’s a question mark over all three of them. Harvey and Callum are probably a little bit ahead of Joe but we’ll have to assess where all of them are and make the right call ahead of the game.”
Perhaps the most surprising update, however, was about striker and top scorer Alexander Isak. The line-leading Swede limped off during the victory over Aston Villa on Tuesday with a groin problem, an issue that has plagued him for much of the campaign.
Early indications were that he might be missing for up to a month but Tindall said he has not yet been ruled out of the squad to face Luton.
“He’s a lot better,” he said. “He’s improved through Wednesday and Thursday. There’s an improvement there but he’s one we’ll have to assess after training to see how he is ahead of the game. He’s got a chance to be involved tomorrow but we’ll have to assess it and take advice from the medical team.”
Should Isak not be fit, his role as central striker will most likely be filled by wideman Anthony Gordon. It’s not a position he is unfamiliar with, having led the line brilliantly in early November during the 3-0 victory at Manchester United in the Carabao Cup. He filled the same position when Isak left the game this week at Villa Park.
“It’s something we know he can do,” said Tindall. “Anthony can play anywhere across the front three positions. He played as a striker a lot when he was at Everton, and in the times he’s played up front for us, he’s done very well.
“If you look at his numbers this year, he’s had 12 goal contributions, so that just shows the talent he is and what a big player he is for us. That’s regardless of whether he plays on the left, right or up front.”
With only Gordon guaranteed to be fit and, in Tindall’s words, “question marks” over Wilson and Isak, many are wondering why the Magpies did not do more to strengthen the squad in the past few weeks.
Finances played a massive part in that, of course, and as Tindall pointed out, it was a similar story across much of the Premier League during the winter transfer window.
“There’s been a real lack of business everywhere,” he said. “It’s been the quietest January I’ve known for a long time.
“But there are two ways to look at a transfer window. (One is as an) opportunity to strengthen if the right players are available. The other way is to not weaken and not sell your best players. If you come out of any window and haven’t weakened your team, then I think it’s been a good window. That’s the way we have to look at it.
“We’ve got outstanding strikers that are very different in the ways they play. They are both such a goal threat. We’ve been unlucky in that we haven’t had them as fit for as long as we would have liked. You can’t predict that and can’t help injuries you pick up in training or games.
“But we’ve got Anthony Gordon, who can play up front. He’s done that at Everton and has been a real threat when he’s done it for us. We’re really happy with Callum and Alex as our two strikers, knowing we have Anthony to call upon if needed.”