Newcastle United striker Islam Slimani has a "chance" of making his debut for the Magpies during next Sunday's (11 February) Premier League clash with Manchester United at St James' Park, manager Rafael Benitez has confirmed.
The Algeria international – along with Sparta Prague's Slovakian goalkeeper Martin Dubravka – was one of two players to head to Tyneside on loan during the final hours of transfer deadline day having been restricted to just two top-flight starts by parent club Leicester City in 2017-18.
But while Dubravka made the substitutes' bench for the meeting with fellow strugglers Crystal Palace, Slimani was omitted from the matchday squad altogether for a 1-1 draw that saw Mohamed Diame's opener cancelled out by a controversial second-half penalty from Luka Milivojevic, despite it emerging that his thigh injury was not as bad as first feared.
However, the 29-year-old appears far more likely to feature next weekend when Newcastle, who now sit 16th and just one point above the relegation zone, entertain a Manchester United side that narrowed the sizeable gap to runaway leaders Manchester City and bounced back from a humbling loss to Tottenham Hotspur with a comfortable 2-0 defeat of Huddersfield Town on Saturday.
"He [Slimani] was not ready," Benitez was quoted as saying by the Shields Gazette. "He was training on Saturday, he will train, and he will have a chance for next Sunday. He must compete, like Dubravka and [Chelsea loanee] Kenedy."
Benitez, who remains without Jesus Gamez but does have both Rob Elliot and Florian Lejeune back in the fold, added that Spanish forward Joselu missed the trip to Selhurst Park with a virus and expressed optimism that the knee issue sustained by Ciaran Clark during the latter stages of the game was not serious. The centre-back will be monitored this week to determine if he will need to miss any time.
"He took a blow to the knee, but I think it's too early for me to say," Benitez said. "We have to wait and see, but I don't see it as a big issue."
Manchester United will remain without long-term absentees Eric Bailly (ankle) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee) against Newcastle, with Jose Mourinho hopeful that the duo will be back in contention for the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie against La Liga outfit Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium in Andalusia later this month.
Injury-prone midfielder Marouane Fellaini, meanwhile, is expected to return in late March after undergoing surgery on his external meniscus on Saturday morning. The Belgian has already endured two lengthy absences this term due to similar knee problems.