RAFAEL BENITEZ insists signing Islam Slimani to spearhead Newcastle United’s fight to avoid relegation is not a gamble – even if the striker has only started two Premier League games this season.

The powerful Algerian front-man has struggled to oust Jamie Vardy in the Leicester City starting line-up since moving from Sporting Lisbon in the summer of 2016 and has arrived at St James’ Park nursing a thigh problem.

There is an outside chance Slimani will figure in tomorrow’s game at Crystal Palace, but the likeliest scenario is that he will make his debut against Manchester United at St James’ Park a week later.

Despite his lack of regular football he is being tipped to shine on Tyneside by the manager who has courted him since last summer, even if there were other targets in mind for this month before they ended up landing the 29-year-old.

Benitez said: “No he’s not a risk. He's a player that they paid, I think, £30m for. I watched him in Portugal and he did well, but he's a player that if you have Vardy up front and the way he as playing, it's very difficult to play ahead of him.

“But he is a player who knows the league, he's strong, he can run behind defenders, different things that we don't have. We have players, one can run, one can win in the air, one can be strong, but this one maybe can do a little bit of everything. That's another option for me.”

Despite a lack of starts – he has made just 15 in the league since his arrival and a further 20 appearances as a substitute – he has still scored eight times and five of those have been this season; although only one of those has been in the league.

Benitez said: “Obviously we were looking for options, different options, different characteristics of players and then players, if it was possible, with experience in the Premier League or players who are fit and scoring goals. That was the striker of Feyenoord (smiling).

“But then if you cannot do that, you have to go for players who know the league and who can do well from day one. In this case, he came with a little bit of a problem in his thigh, but he has been training – and I was with him on the pitch, so he is on the pitch training – bit still we will see how he is tomorrow and how he feels.

"We knew about him before he joined Leicester but when they paid £30m for him we started thinking about other things. Then when we heard he was available on loan he became an option. He's a good signing, clubs were pushing until the last minute so we had to do it quickly and we had to do it well, it was not easy."

Goals have been a real problem for Newcastle this season and that is why Benitez was determined to bring in fresh firepower. Joselu is the club’s leading scorer and he only has four goals, while Aleksandar Mitrovic was allowed to join Fulham.

Benitez said: “Hopefully he will score more than the others, but the others have to score more than four. The reality is you see teams in the bottom half of the division their top scorers aren't scoring too many goals, they're like us with three or four. If you have a top scorer with ten or 15 goals by this stage then you're probably well up the table.”

Slimani was not the only new arrival this week. Benitez’s other two loan signings were Chelsea’s Brazilian winger Kenedy, who impressed against Burnley, and Sparta Prague’s goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.

Benitez faces a decision whether or not to throw Dubravka straight into the starting line-up at Palace without any Premier League experience.

The Newcastle boss said: “For Martin the move was different to the others, it's an opportunity to come to a top side in England. The three keepers trained really well and you will see the strikers, they have to perform. Kenedy playing well the other day is pushing the wingers and the other players around, so it's always positive.

"He's keen to play with his feet, I think he's said that already. He's very agile has personality and has good English so I think he's a player with experience who can give us something but to play in the Premier League is different to any other league so we have to decide whether he's ready for this game and if he can be ahead of the others. He has to compete and show where he is, like the other keepers."