NEWCASTLE: Head coach Eddie Howe is facing a real selection crisis as Newcastle United’s unbeaten start to the season faces its sternest test so far against Liverpool.
The Magpies head to Anfield on Wednesday having avoided defeat in all five games so far this season but will be without a number of key players. In addition they are still awaiting the green light, in the form of a work permit, for club record buy Alexander Isak to play.
United will again be without Bruno Guimaraes, Callum Wilson and Jonjo Shelvey, and added to the absentee list this week are Allan Saint-Maximin, Emil Krafth and Manchester United-bound Martin Dubravka.
“We have a few injuries at the moment, that’s obvious. I don’t think any of them are long-term apart from Emil,” said Howe.
“We’re hopeful we will get the main body of the squad back fit pretty quickly. Certainly for this game, we’re slightly stretched.”
He added that in particular, he does not expect the influential Guimaraes to be out of action for long.
“He’s doing well,” Howe said of the Brazilian international. “I don’t know about this game coming up but hopefully not far after, if he doesn’t make this game. He’s very positive, in good spirits and desperate to get back and be involved.
“He’s a big player for us and we need to get him back as quickly as possible. It’s a slight hamstring. (Against) Tranmere, we brought him on for five minutes at the end in case we needed him to take a penalty. We wanted him to be warm enough to take that penalty; we didn’t want to bring him on with 10 seconds left. At that stage of the game we were under pressure and, unfortunately, he felt something in his hamstring.”
Howe expressed more concern about Saint-Maximin, who was United’s savior in their two most recent Premier League games, contributing a goal and three assists.
“We’ve got Maxi (out), who is a worry for us at the moment,” he said. “It was late in the game on the back of his sprint to try to save the goal.
“You look at the injury lists around the country, they’re the same (long). I don’t think we’re alone on this. You look at Liverpool’s injury list this season, it’s been long. The teams that play that way, naturally there is a slight cost to it. We certainly want to get all our players fit as quickly as possible.”
United are still waiting for the paperwork for Isak’s work permit to be processed by authorities so that he is cleared to play. They filed the relevant forms for the former Real Sociedad player ahead of last Sunday’s game against Wolves but have not yet received the permit. The Sweden international watched from the terraces at Molineux as the Magpies rescued a point late on in a 1-1 draw, and Howe is hoping his new signing will not be forced to do the same on Wednesday night.
“I don’t know, I desperately hope so,” the coach said when asked whether Isak is likely to play. “It would be great to see him involved for us but we’re still in the hands of other people.
“I desperately hope that it gets done before the game but there is no guarantee as I sit here, now. (The cut-off point), I think it’s 75 minutes before kick-off. It could go down to the wire; we’ll wait and see.”
Howe also revealed the club will still be taking an active interest during the final days of the transfer window but does not anticipate any big news between now and Sept. 1.
“We’re very pleased with the business we’ve done,” he said. “The injuries we have are believed to be short term. There might be a bit of short-term pain around the squad but longer-term, when those bodies are back fit, I think we’re very strong.
“That’s not to say we are totally closed off. We’re obviously still looking but I don’t expect any major business to be done.
“If the window closed now, I’d be happy. We haven’t signed huge but I think that can sometimes be a strength, because the dynamic of the group doesn’t change as much, but I do think we’ve signed quality and that’s so important.”
Asked whether this means United will primarily be looking at loan signings during the remainder of the transfer window, Howe replied: “Yes.”