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Strength of Newcastle squad is key to continued success on three fronts, says Howe

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United have the strength to compete on three fronts this season, according to Eddie Howe. However, the head coach conceded that injuries could play a big part in determining United’s success in the Carabao Cup, the Premier League and the FA Cup.

The Magpies’ FA Cup campaign begins on Saturday with a third-round tie at Sheffield Wednesday. The trip to Hillsborough comes just three days before the Magpies face their biggest game of the season so far, when Leicester City will visit at St James’ Park with a place in the Carabao Cup semi-finals at stake.

All this just days after a grueling, bruising rearguard action at Premier League leaders Arsenal, in which United claimed a creditable 0-0 draw.

Injuries to two key squad players, Matt Targett and Jonjo Shelvey, have led many to question whether United will be able to sustain a push in all three competitions. Howe believes that with a fully fit squad, this Newcastle setup is capable of achieving anything but, at the same time, he is realistic about the effect injuries might have.

“Without any injuries, yes; with injuries, probably not,” he said when asked whether his side can continue to progress on all fronts this season. “We have two injuries at the moment, to Jonjo and Matt Targett, which is a huge blow for us, to take two quality players out of a squad that is not hugely deep in terms of numbers.

“That is why the transfer talk is interesting, from our perspective, because it will be injury-related. With a full group I think we are strong enough and have quality in every position but you lose a few players and suddenly that changes. I’d certainly take the fixtures, in (terms of the) congested games that would bring.

“It’s going to be down to me this weekend to try and get a balance right of how we prepare for this game and what team we pick. We want to win the game, we want to go through. We have another cup game a couple of days later; there’s a lot to think about and I haven’t fully, as I sit here now, made my mind up on what team I will pick.”

While Targett and Shelvey are out, club record signing Alexander Isak could make his long-awaited return against the League One side after a long-term hamstring problem. The Swede has not played for United since Sept. 17, when he scored his second goal in his first three games during a 1-1 home draw with Bournemouth. Given how long he has been out, a place on the bench is the most he can expect this weekend.

“If and when we do get Alex back, it’ll be a huge lift,” said Howe. “It’s a cliche but he’ll be like a new signing for us. He’s a massive player with huge ability, so we’re very keen to get him back on the pitch.

“I’m not clear (on that happening this weekend) because I just don’t want to put pressure on him. We’ll introduce him at the right time. He’s getting closer all the time and he has trained with the team. I’m pleased with his progress. Let’s wait and see.

“Initially, he was hugely disappointed. There was a feeling of real frustration because he wanted to contribute and show his talents. He’s in a much better place now because he’s close (to a return) and he’s training. Whenever a footballer is back on the grass with his teammates, your view on things is totally different.”

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