Slimani in the squad for Terriers clash - Benítez
Written by Rory Mitchinson
Rafa Benítez has confirmed that Islam Slimani will be in Newcastle United’s squad to face Huddersfield Town at St. James’ Park on Saturday.
A thigh injury has kept Slimani out of action since the frontman arrived on loan from Leicester City on the final day of the January transfer window.
However, he played 30 minutes for his native Algeria against Iran in Graz on Wednesday, where Les Fennecs were beaten 2-1 by the 2018 World Cup finalists.
With another forward – Joselu – now unavailable for the Terriers’ visit with an ankle injury, Slimani’s return to fitness has come as a timely boost for Magpies boss Benítez.
“We had a plan – the medical staff were talking about (Slimani’s fitness) with the fitness coach. He had to progress. We were testing him in Spain, but he was not ready, but he was following the plan. We were in contact with the (Algerian) federation, and if he could play some minutes in their second game, it was good for everyone. It was good for him, his confidence, his desire, and it’s much better now and he’s back with us,” the Spaniard explained.
“Just by signing him, we improved the competition between the strikers, which was positive. Obviously he was not available, but he was still around and everybody was like, ‘We have to do better.’ It was the same with Kenedy and the ‘keeper (Martin Dúbravka). To have another player, another face, another characteristic in your attack means you can be a little bit stronger.”
Newcastle lost 1-0 to Huddersfield in just their second outing of the 2017/18 campaign, though they head into tomorrow’s clash a point – and two places – better off than David Wagner’s troops.
Benítez has told his players not to think about the league table, however, and warned that the Terriers are a side capable of varying their style.
“They are not a team that will be attacking all the time, because they are quite good also in the counter attack. They are well organised and they know what they have to do. They are aggressive, they go, they press, but also they are good enough to wait and find the right time to play counter attack,” he said.
“I think it will be an interesting game. We have to forget about (Huddersfield’s) position in the table – we know they are a good team. You can see, every time they play at home, the atmosphere – the fans are delighted with the team, and they don’t feel the same pressure as the top sides in the division. As their manager has said, they can enjoy and they can try because they have nothing to lose.”