RIYADH: Newcastle United’s record signing Alexander Isak is a major doubt for the club’s return to English Premier League action with head coach Eddie Howe confirming that the $70m Swede will not feature in Thursday’s Diriyah Season Cup clash with Al-Hilal.
Since arriving at St. James’ Park in a summer deal, 23-year-old Isak has played just three games, the last of which came in September. He scored two goals in that trio of Premier League encounters, one of which came against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
And while it had been hoped the former Real Sociedad striker would feature on Thursday evening, those hopes have been dashed by Howe, who claims the player is facing a race against time to be fit for the visit to Leicester City on Dec. 26.
The Newcastle boss does, however, insist there has been no setback to Isak’s return-to-fitness plan.
Howe said: “He’s doing well. This was the plan. We didn’t expect him to train with the group when we first started training so he’s with the sports scientist team and physios.
“We are building him up in a controlled way and we expect him to be very close for Bournemouth or Leicester, we’re not sure if he’ll be fit or available for those games yet.”
On whether Isak would play against the Saudi Pro League champions this week, Howe added: “No, it’s a bit too early. I don’t expect him to feature in those games (against Al Hilal and a friendly against Rayo Vallecano on Dec. 17). We’ll try and get him back for Bournemouth or Leicester, but we’ll have to see how it goes.
“There’s been no setback. There was an initial setback when he re-injured his thigh and as a consequence of that we just want to make sure we get him fully fit.”
While the January transfer window is not expected to be a transformative one for United, Isak’s return will very much feel like a cliched new signing.
Howe said: “Very much so. He’s a player we’ve really liked and missed, and he’ll give us lots of qualities we feel the team needs. We’re really excited to try and get him back.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle United’s players were guests of honor at the Riyadh residence of Saudi Public Investment Fund head and Magpies’ non-executive chairman, Yasir Al-Rumayyan.
The 28-man playing squad, along with co-owners Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi, as well as Howe’s coaching staff were invited for an evening meal with Al-Rumayyan and his family on Monday evening, 24 hours after their arrival in the Kingdom.
After the event, PCP Capital Partners’ Ghodoussi took to social media to post an image of the squad together, united, and said: “A great evening with great people (followed by a red heart emoji) #nufc #NUFCinRiyadh.”
The players trained at Al-Hilal’s training complex on Tuesday morning, with Isak confined to the gym as part of his recovery.
The only absentees from the playing squad are the Magpies’ World Cup representatives Bruno Guimaraes, Kieran Trippier, Callum Wilson, Nick Pope, and Fabian Schar, while Dan Burn, absent from the original Saudia flight on Sunday, joined up with the squad on Tuesday following his recovery from an illness.
On his players’ return to Saudi Arabia, Howe added: “The first thing we did was to test the players and find out where they were physically compared to the tests we did during pre-season, and from those tests the players were in a good place, which you probably expect as it’s only been two weeks and a couple of days rest but you can still lose a bit of fitness even in that short space on time.
“Because it’s such a short window, the minute we start working, the players will quickly get back to the levels of a very good physical condition.”