Dan Ashworth explains Newcastle United 'challenge' as players return to work

Eddie Howe faces a new “challenge” at Newcastle United – as the club’s players get back to work.

Howe gave his non-international players a fortnight off after the third-placed club’s 1-0 Premier League win over Chelsea.

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Those players not at the mid-season World Cup in Qatar will now be put through a “mini” pre-season, which includes two friendlies, ahead of the domestic game’s restart later next month.

Newcastle will take on Al-Hilal in Riyadh on December 8 during a training camp in Saudi Arabia, and Howe’s side will face Rayo Vallecano at St James's Park on December 17 ahead of a home Carabao Cup tie against Crystal Palace four days later.

“We’ve front-loaded the season a little bit, so it’s quite an intensive season for all Premier League clubs with more games than there would have been last year,” said sporting director Dan Ashworth, who joined the club in the summer.

“So it’s important to give the players a bit of a break, and then it’s back into almost like a mini pre-season, if you like. So it’s back in reconditioning, some games, and getting the players ready.”

The difficulty for Howe and his staff will be assimilating the club’s World Cup players back into the squad, and assessing their readiness to play, when they return on different dates in “different conditions”, according to Ashworth.

Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe.

“What’s complicated it is that some of the players will be at the World Cup, and you don’t know their return date,” said Ashworth.

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“So if they get to the final, the return date is a week before the Leicester game (on December 26).

“If those players get knocked out in the group stages, the return date is week three of our break, so could have players dropping in at that stage.

"Some of them might have played in three of their games, some of them might not have played a minute of the World Cup. They were part of the squad. They’re coming back in different conditions.

“Whichever nations get to the final, if we have players playing for that nation, I think it’s unlikely that they’re going to be available for that cup game.

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"It’s a unique season. It’s part of the challenge.”