Newcastle United signed Islam Slimani on loan until the end of the season from Leicester City during the January transfer window, and manager Rafa Benitez would have been delighted to bring in the new centre-forward with a proven goalscoring record during his career that he had been craving during the first half of the campaign.
The Algeria international, rated at £19.8m by Transfermarkt, was suffering from a calf problem when he made the move to St James’ Park, and although it was originally expected to keep him out of action against Crystal Palace and Manchester United, there was a hope that he would return against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on February 24.
That didn’t prove to be the case though, and as well as missing the long trip to the south coast, the 29-year-old failed to make enough progress in his recovery to face Liverpool or Southampton either.
The striker was finally ready to be part of the squad for the match against Huddersfield Town at St James’ Park on March 31, and he made his debut as a substitute for the final 15 minutes.
The Foxes loanee, who has scored 13 goals in 46 games for his parent club, then missed the clash with them as part of the agreement in his temporary move, before he returned with another impressive cameo appearance for 27 minutes in the 2-1 win against Arsenal, that left Toon fans on Twitter impressed with what they had seen from the former Sporting Lisbon man.
With survival confirmed, Benitez can now start to experiment with his team and work out who his key players for the 2018/19 campaign are going to be, and he is running out of time to, decide whether Slimani is worth signing on a permanent basis, or not.
The Spanish manager unsurprisingly decided to hand the 6ft 2in centre-forward a start in the lone role against Everton, but the majority of the visitors’ chances on the night fell to Ayoze Perez rather than him in a disappointing 1-0 defeat.
At times, Slimani was visibly trying too hard to impress and attempting the difficult things when the simple things would have sufficed, but at other moments he showed the strengths that he has in his locker.
Had it not been for a poor through ball by Perez than he might have got his first goal for the club, but he was starved of service in general and was substituted off in the 63rd minute having only had 29 touches of the ball.
Nevertheless, the 29-year-old is still rusty following his return from injury and the fact that he didn’t really play regularly for Leicester in the first-half of the season, but the fact that he is already showing glimpses that he would be a more than useful addition for them is certainly promising.
The Algerian showed that he can be strong in the air and is willing to battle and put the running in for his team – something that is important for the ethos of this Newcastle side – and if he can click with the likes of Perez and Matt Ritchie on the pitch then it is only a matter of time before things start to flow freely.
The Magpies can still finish as high as eighth this season and whether they achieve that or not, the target for Benitez next season will be to cement their spot as a top-half Premier League side, who have the potential of finishing as the best of the rest outside of the top six given how close things can be between the other clubs.
That certainly looks to be an achievable aim for the Magpies under the leadership of the Spaniard and with a bit of money behind them, and Slimani is already proving that he can be a real asset in their bid to do that.
Benitez should once again look to start the striker at home to bottom-of-the-table West Bromwich Albion at St James’ Park on Saturday, and you certainly wouldn’t bet again him making a big impression and opening his account for the club.
Whatever happens, they should waste no time in snapping him up on a permanent deal during the summer.