Florian Lejeune featured in Newcastle’s match day squad for the first time this season, as the Frenchman was named as one of Rafa Benitez’s seven substitutes on Wednesday night.
The centre-back didn’t manage to get any minutes against Manchester United in a 2-0 home loss, but his position on the bench was still a positive one.
Lejeune suffered a horror injury in pre-season, damaging one of his cruciate ligaments.
For most professionals, an injury of this nature can mean missing a whole season and can even threaten careers.
Yet remarkably, the defender has achieved full fitness in just five months. He’s now even expected to make a comeback in Newcastle’s FA Cup tie with Blackburn on Saturday.
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But after an injury of this magnitude, can he make an impact for the remainder of the season?
Lejeune needs match fitness
Despite appearing on the bench on Wednesday, Lejeune is still worryingly low on match fitness.
In an U23s game against Norwich reserves last month, the Frenchman played just 45 minutes as part of his recovery.
He didn’t feature for the reserves again and spent the remainder of last month back training with the first team.
It may have been a cautionary measure to keep him out of reserve fixtures, but he’s still yet to play 90 minutes this season. That means he has not played a full competitive fixture since May 2018.
As one of Newcastle’s best defenders last season, fans are still desperate for the centre-back to make his return.
But he now faces the daunting task of joining a team in a relegation scrap so soon after his recovery.
With Fabian Schar and Federico Fernandez also performing well this season, he’ll have to show all his quality to win back a starting place.
How will Lejeune fit into Benitez’s plans?
The FA Cup tie against Blackburn should reveal to Benitez whether Lejeune is ready for Premier League action.
Lejeune may be one of the only star names in Saturday’s line up, as the manager looks to preserve his first team.
In a weakened side, all eyes will be on the Frenchman to lead the back line.
Perhaps most interesting though will be how Benitez will line up with Lejeune in the side.
The manager has been fond of a back five in recent weeks, a system that some defenders have struggled with.
Despite it being a cup game, it may best to play the formation, merely to see how Lejeune performs alongside two centre-backs.
The manager may want to test out Lejeune as the most central defender, an incredibly tough role.
The position often demands a defender with good ball playing ability, which is arguably one of his better assets.
Jamaal Lascelles has played there over the last few weeks and has struggled to adapt to it so far.
If Lejeune can show any natural ability in the role on Saturday, he’s likely to be rushed back into action for the following Premier league fixture.