Newcastle are bracing themselves for the prospect of losing key midfielder Joelinton for the remainder of the season if he needs surgery.
The 27-year-old Brazil international damaged a tendon in his thigh during the 3-0 FA Cup third-round victory at Sunderland on January 6 and medics have since been working to assess the extent of the problem.
However, the PA news agency understands he may need an operation and if that proves to be the case, he would be out of action for months rather than the “minimum of six weeks” for which head coach Eddie Howe revealed he could be sidelined on Friday.
Howe said: “Joey’s injury is another freak injury one where he’s off-balance trying to switch play. He gets pushed in the back, his leg goes to an awkward angle and ends up with an injury.
“Unfortunately for us any injury we’ve picked up this year hasn’t been a one or two-week injury, it’s been six to eight weeks at a time where we can’t afford it.
“We’re really stretched in the attacking and midfield areas and we have been for a long time.
“It’s inhibited our ability to rest players and also change the flow of games by bringing players on who can make a difference.”
Joelinton, a £40million signing from Hoffenheim during the summer of 2019, was one of 11 senior players unavailable for Saturday’s 3-2 home defeat by Manchester City with 10 of them missing through injury or illness.
Howe hopes to have Harvey Barnes and Jacob Murphy back from toe and shoulder problems respectively within the next few weeks, but the depth of his squad has been severely tested in recent months and the demands on those who have played throughout a gruelling schedule have taken their toll.
A prolonged absence for the Brazilian, who has become a key member of the Newcastle team since he was converted from a struggling striker to a powerhouse midfielder, coupled with Sandro Tonali’s 10-month suspension for betting breaches, would represent a further blow.
Howe has drafted 17-year-old Lewis Miley into his preferred 4-3-3 formation when more senior players have been unavailable, but is acutely aware of the responsibility he has heaped on the shoulders of such a young player.
The 46-year-old would dearly love to bolster his resources during the winter transfer window, but both he and chief executive Darren Eales admitted last week that the restrictions imposed by Premier League profit and sustainability rules mean that significant investment was unlikely.
Newcastle had hoped to clinch a loan deal for Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips, but are understood to have baulked at both the fee involved and a purchase clause and their hunt for reinforcements on a budget continues.