11 February 2019
Before we shift our focus onto Europe, Newcastle travel to Molineux on Monday evening in the final fixture of game week twenty-six. The home side are currently ‘Best of the Rest’ and a win tonight would make it five top-flight wins on the spin. Only Tottenham and Manchester United are better over the previous six.
The hosts should be able to call upon Ruben Vinagre who has missed the last two matches because of a virus. The 19-year-old was rated as touch and go for the FA Cup replay versus Shrewsbury last week and the extra recovery time will help. The same can also be said of Diogo Jota who picked up a knock (left thigh) at Goodison Park (GW25). The Portuguese attacker has been in a rich vein of form – three goals + an assist in his last three – and he is expected to be passed fit after Nuno Espírito Santo confirmed all his players were training following their warm weather camp in Marbella, Spain.
Ki Sung-Yeung and Paul Dummett (both hamstring) are back in contention while midfielder Mo Diame is also over his recent hip problem to hand Rafa Benitez a welcome selection headache. The Newcastle boss will make a late call on new signing Miguel Almiron who hasn’t played competitively since 9th December. “I think he has adapted fine. Training has been OK. He is a fit, mobile and dynamic. People talk about the physicality, so we will see how he copes.”
The Paraguayan is undertaking extra gym sessions in an attempt to get up to speed quicker. Rob Elliot and Jonjo Shelvey are the only players missing through injury. “Everyone else is fit and available.” Muto is back following his involvement at the Asian Cup and Karl Darlow will compete with Freddie Woodman to provide back-up for Martin Dúbravka from the bench.
The cup takes precedent this week as we enter the knockout phase of European competition and nowhere was that more evident than at Craven Cottage where Ole Gunnar Solksjaer was hoping to extend his unbeaten run to 11 games.
United made six changes with one eye on their midweek encounter with Paris Saint-Germain, but the change in personnel didn’t alter the outcome which plunged Fulham deeper into the relegation dogfight.
Eric Bailly, Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard and Alexis Sanchez were among those to drop down to the bench while Marcus Rashford was a surprise absentee from the starting line-up given his recent form. However, Solskjaer told MUTV that the striker had been rested as a precaution along with Victor Lindelof who was omitted from the squad altogether.
“There are a couple of niggles,” he said. “Rashy got a dead leg against Leicester that he’s struggled with all week, so we don’t want to risk him. At the back, we’ve got a few changes. Victor is out, not a really a concern, he should be okay for Tuesday.”
There was also good news from the Aon Training Complex where Marcos Rojo has been working on the training pitches. The Argentine has endured an injury plagued couple of years – just nine league starts since November 2017 – but the defender is closing in on a comeback after suffering more problems in December. Rojo is targeting a return to play later this month along with Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian who will be unavailable for a “couple of weeks” through niggles.
But while Ole should be able to boast a squad close to full strength on Tuesday, opponents Paris Saint-Germain are struggling following a spate of injuries in recent weeks. Most notably, Brazilian playmaker Neymar, who will miss a minimum of two months after he fractured his fifth metatarsal against Strasbourg in the cup.
Edinson Cavani is the latest addition to the treatment room and manager Thomas Tuchel believes it will be “very difficult” for striker to play at Old Trafford.
“There is no good news this morning,” he said. “Edinson has undergone exams and there will be more tests here at the training centre. My feeling is that it will be very difficult for him to feature in Manchester. In any case, we must wait a bit more as the exams are still ongoing. I think that the news will not be very good. I still have a little hope, but the first tests were not good.”
A mild concussion will keep Thomas Meunier out of the first-leg tie although there was better news regarding Marco Verratti who came through 60 minutes unscathed at the weekend following recent ankle and thigh problems.
Harry Kane looks set to make an early return from an ankle ligament injury, but Mauricio Pochettino was quick to play down any suggestion that he could be back this week. The England captain has been keeping his followers updated with his progress via Instagram and the videos led many to believe that he would be ready to face Borussia Dortmund.
“He’s doing well. He’s doing fantastic,” the Spurs boss beamed. “We have to stop him every day, because he wants to be ahead of his recovery and he’s very optimistic and his determination to play as soon as possible is unbelievable. If you see him, he’s nearly ready to play, but we need to be realistic too. I think he’s so close to come back again, not for Sunday and not for Wednesday, but we’ll see after.”
The expectation is that Kane will come back into contention when the Premier League fixtures resume at Burnley on 23rd February. Dele Alli (hamstring) has commenced his on-field rehabilitation while Ben Davies (groin) continues his recovery. Eric Dier, who was laid low by a virus on Saturday, should return to the matchday squad.
For the Bundesliga leaders, barring nothing short of a “miraculous recovery,” Marco Reus will not feature at Wembley. The 29-year-old suffered a muscle injury against Werder Bremen seven days ago and sporting director Michael Zorc has all but ruled Reus out.
Manuel Akanji has re-joined the group in training, but having missed close to two months with a hip problem, the best the centre-back can hope for is a place on the bench. “It’s nice that he’s back on the pitch. Manuel is on schedule, but one must not forget that he has been out for a long time. It will take some time,” Zorc said.
Arsenal and Chelsea won’t be involved in Europa League duty until Thursday and the sides had contrasting fortunes over the weekend. The Gunners were outplayed for large spells in the second forty-five by the leagues’ basement side, but goals from Alex Iwobi and Alexandre Lacazette in the first half were just enough to see them over the line.
Unai Emery arrived at the John Smith’s Stadium with a depleted squad as a virus ripped through the Arsenal camp. Laurent Koscielny was able to recover but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil were not with the travelling party. Those problems were exacerbated by the loss of Aaron Ramsey to a late knee injury while Granit Xhaka failed to recover from a minor groin strain. The quartet will be assessed during the build-up to their trip to Borisov.
Chelsea on the other hand had a day to forget at the Etihad conceding six to the current Champions. Maurizio Sarri continues to frustrate, he insisted that Callum Hudson-Odoi should travel with the squad, but then refused to name him in the 18 for the second successive away game. The young winger has taken part in the Blues’ last four Europa outings, including two starts, which suggests he is set for a more prominent role in Malmo.
Back to domestic cup duty this weekend and the FA Cup fifth round will get underway on Friday evening as Watford make a short trip across London to face rivals Queens Park Rangers. So, make sure you’re following throughout for all of the latest injury updates.