Newcastle United in Saudi Arabia: Alexander Isak updates, January planning and Allan Saint-Maximin influence - 6 things we learned from training photos
The squad are aiming to replicate the successes of their trip to Saudi Arabia in January as Eddie Howe puts his team through their paces. With a friendly match against Al-Hilal to come before they return to England, Newcastle have a busy week in the middle east.
Those not at the World Cup have travelled to the mid-season camp as they begin the build-up to the return of domestic football. Here, we take a look at six things we learned from photos of Newcastle United training in Saudi Arabia.
Allan-Saint Maximin’s prominent role
Newcastle’s first competitive game back after the mid-season break is a Carabao Cup tie with Bournemouth. Taking place just three days after the World Cup final, this game could see some of Newcastle’s squad options get a run out in place of any international representatives that help their country go deep in Qatar.
One of those that may be asked to step-up and make their mark against the Cherries is Allan Saint-Maximin who has seen injury problems plague his beginning to the season. The Frenchman made a brief return before the break for the World Cup, but has now had another month to rest and recuperate and will undoubtedly be required by Newcastle during a busy festive period.
Saint-Maximin will likely feature against Al-Hilal on Thursday and will be hoping to impress, especially given the form of fellow attackers Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson.
The clash with Bournemouth also offers Howe a selection dilemma at the other end of the field. Despite Nick Pope not yet appearing for England in Qatar, if the Three Lions do progress into the semi-finals and potentially beyond, then he may not be considered to start the Carabao Cup game.
That possibility would offer Karl Darlow and Loris Karius the opportunity to start the game at St James’s Park and both will be aiming to impress their manager this week to stake their claim. Karius, who signed on a free transfer in September, has yet to make an appearance for the Magpies whilst Darlow has featured just once - coming in the cup against Tranmere Rovers in August.
With a few members of the first-team still in Qatar representing their nation at the World Cup, this training camp has offered the chance for a few youngsters to impress Howe and his coaching staff. Dylan Stephenson and Joe White, who have found themselves on the fringes of the senior side in recent times, have been pictured training with the first-team squad. Lewis Miley, Jay Turner-Cooke and Alex Murphy have also been training with the senior side as they aim to make their mark.
Backroom staff roles – and potential January plans
Joining the playing and coaching staff on the trip is a familiar face for Magpies fans. Loan manager Shola Ameobi has travelled with the team and will likely be casting an eye over some of the younger members of the group ahead of potential loan interest in January.
Co-owners Mehrdad Ghodoussi, Amanda Staveley and Jamie Reuben and sporting director Dan Ashworth have also travelled to the middle east, hinting that the Magpies will use this time to plan how they intend to operate in the upcoming January transfer window.
Alexander Isak update
One player most fans will be keeping a keen eye on is Newcastle’s club-record purchase Alexander Isak. The Sweden international has been missing since netting an equaliser during the clash with Bournemouth in September after sustaining a setback during his recovery from a thigh injury.
Isak has travelled with the squad to Saudi Arabia and has been pictured engaging in a game of head tennis with fellow injured team mate Matt Ritchie, however, as Howe revealed, the striker be introduced slowly back into the first-team fold as to not risk future injury setbacks.
"He's doing well. This was the plan.” Howe said. “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’re 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."
Described as a ‘mini pre-season’, Newcastle will use this camp to get players back up to speed ahead of a busy festive period of football. Upon their return, Newcastle have five games in the space of 17 days in the league, Carabao Cup and FA Cup.
After a month away, getting players on the road to being match fit ahead of their return to England will be a priority for the group. However, there is also the added benefit of building squad unity and recapturing a spirit in the camp that has helped Newcastle record a stunning start to the season.
Their trip to Saudi Arabia in January accomplished this beyond expectations - Howe will be hoping to replicate this over the coming few days. In complete contrast to the huge threat of relegation looming over them last time, Newcastle are in the middle east with genuine European hopes and will be aiming to harness the spirit built by the trip to aid their hopes of securing European qualification for the first time in over a decade.
Their fate won’t be decided until May, however, a successful mid-season training camp could be exactly what the group needs to help them realise their ambitions.