RAFAEL BENITEZ has challenged Islam Slimani to ‘resurrect his career’ during the final eight games of the season, with the Algerian striker finally set to make his Newcastle United debut in this afternoon’s Premier League relegation battle with Huddersfield Town.

Slimani joined Newcastle on loan from Leicester City at the end of the January transfer window, but has spent the last two months on the sidelines after a pre-existing thigh injury took longer than anticipated to heal.

He played for almost half-an-hour of Algeria’s international friendly with Iran on Tuesday, and has trained with the rest of Newcastle’s first-team squad for the last two days. As a result, he will be named amongst the substitutes as the Magpies look to take a giant step towards safety when they entertain the Terriers this afternoon.

Dwight Gayle will retain his place in the starting line-up, but with Joselu unavailable because of an ankle injury, Slimani is expected to feature at some stage.

The 29-year-old was regarded as one of the brightest attacking prospects in Europe when he made a £29m move to Leicester in the summer of 2016, having scored 48 goals in 82 league appearances for Sporting Lisbon. However, he has only claimed one league goal in the whole of this season, and Benitez admits the next two months will be a crucial period in his career.

“I think it’s important for us as a team and a club that he does well,” said the Newcastle boss. “But it’s also important for him personally.

“He’s a player who is training really well, and even when he was injured, I remember one session he was doing with the fitness coach when he couldn’t train with the team. He was doing sprints, and I was joking, ‘Oh, listen, you are very slow!’ So he was sprinting like, ‘Vroom, vroom’.

“He was training really, really hard. He is the kind of player who wants to impress, and I am sure over the next two months he will try to do his best because it impacts on his future too.”

When Benitez pushed so hard to sign Slimani in January, he regarded the Algerian’s goals as a potential game-changer in terms of Newcastle’s survival fight.

Since then, however, Gayle has rediscovered the form that made him the Magpies’ leading goalscorer in the Championship last season, and if the number nine continues finding the net in the final eight matches, there is a chance Slimani could end his loan spell without having made a single senior start.

He is ineligible for next weekend’s trip to his parent club, Leicester, so assuming he does not start this afternoon, he can only make a maximum of six starts before he is due to return to the King Power Stadium.

His loan deal does not feature a clause for a permanent deal, but Benitez insists there is still plenty of time for him to make an impact.

“The way that he trains and how competitive he is, I think that he will have chances to start games,” he said. “If the others score a lot of goals, then you never know, but he is someone who is very competitive and he will have his chances.

“He scored 29 goals in a season before moving to Leicester, and we were looking at him then. We knew he was there, but when you talk about the price, you can forget it.”

Today’s game pits Newcastle against a Huddersfield side that accompanied them into the Premier League last season, and that have been embroiled in the same battle against the drop throughout the current campaign.

All three of the promoted sides – Brighton, Newcastle and Huddersfield – are separated by just three points, and while five of the last nine teams to have been promoted from the Championship have been relegated in their first season in the top-flight, there is a good chance that all three new arrivals could survive this time around.

Brighton and Huddersfield deserve a huge amount of credit for getting themselves into a position where another two or three wins will guarantee their safety, but Benitez claims it has been even more difficult for Newcastle to keep themselves out of trouble this term.

While Premier League football has been something of a novelty at the Amex and John Smith’s Stadiums, Newcastle’s history and status mean a place in the top-flight is regarded as a minimum requirement on the banks of the Tyne.

“Brighton, Huddersfield and ourselves are well-organised teams,” said Benitez. “The three of us are well-organised, and we more or less know what we have to do. I have said it before though – of these three teams, we were in the most danger.

“Why? Because this is a massive side, massive city, massive stadium, with experience in the Premier League, so everybody was expecting we could be here (in a high position in the table).

“To stay calm, keep fighting and be in the position we are in at the moment is quite positive, but it is more difficult for us than for them.

“It is more difficult for us, but you have to give them credit because they are both good teams and they know what they want, and what they have to do.

“But when you talk about teams that have been in the Premier League for a lot of years, they feel the pressure in a different way, and that could maybe have been the case with us.”

Newcastle (probable, 4-2-3-1): Dubravka; Yedlin, Lejeune, Lascelles, Dummett; Shelvey, Diame; Ritchie, Perez, Kenedy; Gayle.