Fabian Schar was Steve Bruce’s true hero against Manchester City on Boxing Day as the Newcastle United defender earned his first start in seven weeks.
Bruce recalled Schar to the Magpies’ line-up for their trip to the Etihad Stadium as he sought to favour a five-man defence, having lost top-scorer Callum Wilson in the build-up to kick-off after the summer arrival sustained a knock.
The decision to name an additional defender failed to prevent United from tasting a third defeat in their last four fixtures across all competitions, yet Schar produced plenty of positives against Pep Guardiola’s Sky Blues.
Bruce had been without Schar for the Magpies’ previous three Premier League fixtures, although the reason behind his absence was never formally confirmed, with Newcastle choosing not to reveal the identities of any employees who contracted coronavirus.
Jamaal Lascelles and Allan Saint-Maximin were later revealed to have tested positive, though no official declaration was made over the causes of Schar and Javier Manquillo’s recent unavailability.
Bruce may have now hinted toward Schar testing positive, though, after discussing the Switzerland centre-half’s return to action after the Manchester City game.
“Fabian Schar has trained once in five weeks but wanted to play, the attitude of them all was there to see,” Bruce said, via quotes by the Chronicle. “We have got a large chunk of players missing. I don’t want to make excuses, but we are struggling for numbers.”
Schar had not started a top-flight game since Newcastle lost 2-0 at Southampton in early November, before playing the second half of the following 2-0 defeat to Chelsea at St. James’ Park.
His limited practice in the following weeks can forgive Schar for some of his misdemeanours against Manchester City, yet the 29-year-old – who a senior official of one of his former employers told The Athletic that he “drove me nuts” – still left Bruce with plenty to praise on a night where goalkeeper Karl Darlow was being lauded for an “excellent” display.
Schar registered more than twice as many interceptions as any other player for either side at the Etihad on Boxing Day, with the £40,000-per-week defender snatching possession five times, along with making four clearances, per SofaScore.
He additionally blocked a shot as one of just three Newcastle men to stand in the way of Guardiola’s Citizens, won his only aerial duel of the night and was the sole Toon centre-half to complete a long ball.
Federico Fernandez misplaced each of his four attempted long passes while Ciaran Clark chose not to attempt any passes at range, while Schar found teammates with six of his 12 long balls as he recorded a greater number of accurate passes (21) than each of his defensive partners.
Bruce now only stands to benefit from Schar regaining more fitness in the coming days before Newcastle host champions Liverpool on Wednesday night.