Rafa Benitez explains his position on a summer Newcastle move for Islam Slimani
Rafa Benitez says Islam Slimani is playing for his future.
The Newcastle United striker is in line to make his debut against Huddersfield Town at St James’s Park this afternoon.
Slimani, signed on loan from Leicester City in January, had been sidelined by an ankle problem.
However, the 29-year-old come off the bench for Algeria this week and he has been named in the Benitez’s squad.
Slimani doesn’t appear to have a future at Leicester under Claude Puel, so the former Sporting Lisbon player is desperate to impress between now and the end of the season, according to Benitez.
“I think it’s important for us as a team and a club that he does well,” said United’s manager. “But it’s also important for him personally.
“He’s another player who is training really well. Even when he was injured, I remember one session he was doing with the fitness coach when he couldn’t train with the team.
“He was doing sprints, and I was joking ‘oh, listen, you are very slow!’. So he was sprinting like ‘vroom, vroom’.
“He was training really, really hard. He’s the kind of player who wants to impress, and I’m sure over the next two months he will try to do his best, because it impacts on his future too.”
Slimani is likely to replace Joselu on Newcastle’s bench for the Huddersfield game.
Joselu will miss the fixture with an ankle problem suffered in training this week.
Slimani, however, may find starts hard to come by given the form of leading scorer Dwight Gayle, who has hit form in recent weeks.
Benitez said: “The way that he (Slimani) trains, and how competitive he is, I think that he will have chances to start games. If the others score a lot of goals, then you never know, but he’s someone who’s very competitive, and he will have his chances.”
Asked if the club would try to sign Slimani and winger Kenedy, signed on loan from Chelsea, in the summer, Benitez said: “We have to win against Huddersfield, and then after we will think about what we can do next year.
“I’m happy with them. They’re training really well, and these kind of players are the ones that if you do well and stay in the Premier League, then they are the type of players you can consider.
“But it’s too early to talk about that.”
Gayle, meanwhile, has scored five goals this season, but the striker –who netted 23 goals in the Championship last season – had a difficult start to the campaign.
Asked if Gayle had raised his game since the arrival of Slimani, Benitez said: “Not just Gayle, but everyone has raised their game since January, particularly the offensive players.
“You can see them training, and then after you have to decide who will play, but they all compete, and when you have finishers, then they compete for everything.
“To have another body around is positive. Then everyone thinks ‘oh, be careful’. It means everyone’s on their toes. Gayle’s been in great shape. He’s training really well, and is in good shape, but so are most of the players.
“He always has a smile on his face, he always tries to do things and he’s quite clever in his movement.
“These players can improve with people around and in every training session, and over the last month that’s what they have done.”