Steve Bruce’s men line up against Manchester City this evening just ten days after their crusting FA Cup quarter-final defeat at the hands of the champions.
On that occasion, Pep Guardiola’s side made light work of the Magpies, but the good news for Newcastle United is that with safety assured on 42 points they can play with freedom knowing that the result has little implication.
However, the bad news for Bruce is that many of the Magpies’ regulars are major injury doubts for the encounter, including Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin. In the duo’s posssible absence, he must look towards Christian Atsu and bring the Ghanaian speedster out of the wilderness.
Atsu has not featured since making two substitute appearances against Oxford United in the FA Cup, starting a meagre six Premier League matches in total this term, as per WhoScored. Over his four seasons at St James’ Park, the winger has proven to be a valuable squad player regularly making an impact off the bench, as he has done this term again, providing 12 substitute appearances. His blistering pace has been used to stretch opposition sides late on, but the main criticism of his play has been a lack of end product, highlighted by having scored a pitiful three Premier League goals in 79 appearances.
However, considering he’s often introduced to games late on, it can be challenging to adjust when being thrust into the melee with time ticking away. Evidence to suggest that Atsu can be effective from the first minutes comes via his assists this season, of which he has three, all have come in matches he’s started.
Another positive for the 28-year-old is that his Premier League assists have come against Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester City, indicating that he thrives when playing against the Premier League’s elite and is most dangerous when afforded space to break into by the opposition.
Having not featured since the resumption of the top-flight, Atsu should be raring to go, though possibly short of match fitness. Bruce has promised to rotate his squad for the final five matches of the season, and with Almiron and Saint-Maximin injury doubts, Atsu could be the man for the big occasion once more.
The former Chelsea player is entering the final year of his contract next season and he really ought to start proving his worth to management and fans, if Bruce gives him a chance and Atsu fails to impress he could be running out of time at St James’ Park.