Ivan Toney 'wasn't an option' at Newcastle United for Rafa Benitez
All eyes will be on Christian Eriksen on Saturday.
The Brentford midfielder, out since suffering a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020 last summer, could make a long-awaited – and welcome – return to competitive football against Newcastle United in a six-pointer at the Brentford Community Stadium.
However, the likely involvement of Ivan Toney, pushing to return from a three-game absence, could be more significant.
The former United striker has scored eight goals in all competitions so far this season.
Toney just missed out on last weekend’s 2-1 defeat to Arsenal, and Brentford head coach Thomas Frank said: "We knew it was very tough to have him ready for this game. I’d say it’s much more realistic (for him) to be part of the team on Saturday."
The 25-year-old, Brentford’s £10million talisman, has come a long way since he left Newcastle for Peterborough United in 2018.
Toney had joined the club from hometown club Northampton Town in 2015. He made three substitute’s appearances before being loaned out to Barnsley by then-manager Steve McClaren.
Unquestionably, he had potential. He was said to be “strong for his age with a good leap”, but his finishing and touch needed work. More than anything, he needed first-team football.
Toney, in total, had loan spells at five clubs before being sold to Peterborough ahead of Rafa Benitez’s final season at St James’s Park. He joined Brentford in the summer of 2020.
Speaking two years ago, Toney said: "Rafa’s a great manager, but, personally, I don't think I was given that chance (to play). That's my opinion on it, others may feel different."
Benitez distanced himself from the decision to sell Toney before Everton’s visit to Brentford earlier this season.
“I didn’t meet Ivan Toney at any time (at Newcastle),” said Benitez in a press conference. “I didn’t coach him any day, so I didn’t talk with him when I was there, because he was on loan.
“All the reports that I had when I was asking for players for the first team, nobody was telling me that he was an option, and he was on loan – and they sold him.”
Toney scored – and kissed the Brentford badge on his shirt – on his return to St James’s Park in November for Eddie Howe’s first game in charge of United.
The game ended in a 3-3 draw, and, in a classy post-match interview, Toney said: “Obviously, on a personal level, it meant a lot. There’s no hard feelings against the club.
"They hold a place in my heart, and I wish them all the best throughout the season.
"Obviously, whatever happened in the past, maybe I wasn’t ready, maybe wasn’t good enough, who knows. At the time, the club had a decision to make, and the decision was to let me go.
"There’s no hard feelings. The club holds a special place in my heart, I’m sure it will forever, because without the stepping stone of being at Newcastle, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Toney might not have a particular point to prove against United, but this game will have been one of the first he looked for when the fixture list came out last summer.
And he’ll test Newcastle’s new-found defensive resilience – if he plays.