Newcastle winger Saint-Maximin set to return after COVID-19 illness


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Premier League - Southampton v Newcastle United - St Mary's Stadium, Southampton, Britain - November 6, 2020 Newcastle United's Allan Saint-Maximin during the warm up before the match Pool via REUTERS/Stu Forster

(Reuters) - Newcastle United's French winger Allan Saint-Maximin is set to return following two months out after suffering the long-term effects of COVID-19, manager Steve Bruce said on Friday.

Saint-Maximin has not played for Newcastle since their 2-0 defeat at home to Chelsea on Nov. 21, but Bruce said he could feature in Saturday's Premier League game at Aston Villa.

The 23-year-old returned to light training last week.

"The good news for everybody is that Saint-Maximin is in the squad," Bruce told reporters. "He's trained well all week and his fitness levels are very, very good.

"We have to get the balance right and I wouldn't expect him to be starting but he'll be in the squad.

"He looks in decent shape, which is important and no doubt in this particular moment in time, he gives everyone a huge lift because we know how important he is, especially in the forward area."

Argentine centre back Federico Fernandez will be unavailable for the Villa game due to hamstring and muscle problems, while Fabian Schar and Ciaran Clark are doubtful. Striker Dwight Gayle is unwell, but the 30-year-old tested negative for the coronavirus.

Newcastle are 15th in the league, with 19 points from 18 games, and are without a win in nine games in all competitions. They have scored one goal in their last five league games.

Bruce said he was not worried about their goal drought and that the players were ready to fight to turn things around.

"If Liverpool, the champions, can't score for six hours then it shows how tough this league is," Bruce said of Juergen Klopp's side who have not scored in their last four league games.

"We've made so many changes, too many changes, which has been levelled at us. But we've had some serious problems with injury and illness... We're going through a bad run."

(Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)

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