Rafa Benitez explains the story behind Islam Slimani’s Newcastle move

Islam Slimani
Islam Slimani

Rafa Benitez has backed Islam Slimani to fire Newcastle United up the Premier League table.

The experienced striker joined on loan from Leicester City this week.

And Slimani will have a fitness test ahead of tomorrow’s game against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park (2,15pm).

The 29-year-old arrived at St James’s Park with a thigh injury.

However, Slimani could yet make Benitez’s squad for the match against the Eagles.

“He’s been working with the physio,” said United’s manager.

“He has a small problem with his thigh. He’s trained, and I talked with him (yesterday). He’s been on the pitch.

“Will he be available Sunday? It depends.

“He’s pushing to be ready.”

Slimani, signed by Leicester from Sporting Lisbon for £28million in the summer of 2016, will bring Premier League experience to Benitez’s attack.

The Algeria international will compete with Joselu and Dwight Gayle for a place up front.

“Obviously, we were looking for options, different options, different characteristics of players, and then players, if it was possible, with experience in the Premier League or players who are fit and scoring goals,” said Benitez.

“But then, if you cannot do that, you have to go for players who know the league and who can do well from day one.

“In this case, he came with a little bit of a problem in his thigh.”

Asked if the signing of Slimani was a risk, Benitez added: “No. He’s a player that they paid, I think, £30million for him.

“I watched him in Portugal, and he did well, but he’s a player that if you have (Jamie) Vardy up front and the way he as playing, it’s very difficult to play ahead of him.

“But he’s a player who knows the league, he’s strong, he can run behind defenders, different things that we don’t have.

“We have players, one can run, one can win in the air, one can be strong, but this one, maybe can do a little bit of everything.

“That’s another option for me.”

Benitez has followed Slimani’s career for a number of years.

“We knew about him, but when they paid £30m for him, we started thinking about other things,” said Benitez, who also signed winger Kenedy and goalkeeper Martin Dubravka in last month’s transfer window.

“But then, when we heard he was available on loan, he became an option.

“He’s a good signing. Clubs were pushing until the last minute, so we had to do it quickly and we had to do it well. It was not easy.

“Some players on loan you never know if they want to perform and play, but, with the World Cup, a lot of players are playing to make it there, like with Kenedy.

“With Dubravka, it was different, but it’s an opportunity to come to a top side in England.”

Joselu is United’s top Premier League scorer with four goals. Dwight Gayle and captain Jamaal Lascelles have both scored three times in the league, while Ayoze Perez has four goals in all competitions.

“The reality is you see teams in the bottom half of the division, and their top scorers aren’t scoring too many goals. They’re like us, with three or four,” said Benitez.

“If you have a top scorer with 10 or 15 goals by this stage, then you’re probably well up the table.”

Slimani has scored five goals so far this season.