Newcastle ended the last batch of Premier League games on a high. Two wins on spin have got them back on track and there could be some frustration that the international break could stall that momentum.
Especially with their next opponents, top four rivals Manchester United, with just three wins from eight matches in the Premier League.
A drop-off from Erik ten Haag’s side meant that a Newcastle win would move them above their Carabao Cup final winners to third in the table.
But instead the last two weeks could actually prove crucial to Newcastle’s big push for Champions League football next season.
After a last-gasp victory at Nottingham Forest, Eddie Howe lambasted players not called up to Dubai by their countries for a mix of rest and warm-weather training. Callum Wilson describes himself and the group as “recharged” after the tour.
However, this period allowed a key figure for the side to get more crucial minutes at his feet.
The start of Alexander Isaac’s time at Newcastle was ruined by a hamstring tear that kept him out for 16 games until January. The recovery process has been a long one — and even now the outlook with him is cautious.
He played around 70 minutes in Sweden’s two internationals during the break, with national team boss Jan Andersen admitting that “he is not 100 per cent match-wise”.
Isak went goalless in the Euro qualifiers, although it was his cross that forced an own goal against Azerbaijan, in a match where he had a strike disallowed for offside.
The expectation from Newcastle is that the 23-year-old is going back to where they need him for the last dozen games of the run-in.
His performances in their last two matches have certainly demonstrated the impact he has had on this team.
After scoring the opener in a win over Wolves, he showed his technical prowess on a volley against Forest before demonstrating his composure to convert a stoppage-time, match-winning penalty – his sixth goal in 10 matches for the club.
For a team renowned for its defensive solidity, Isaac’s performance was an example of the threat he can bring at the other end of the pitch. His statistics per 90 minutes this season mark him as one of the most dangerous forwards in Europe.
He is a much-needed addition to a Newcastle team that scored just three goals in a recent eight-game run.
Howe also credited his flexibility, praising his ability to move into a wide left role before his equalizer when Alain Saint-Maximin needed to move up the field.
Clinical in the box, quick to move – Isak has many weapons in his arsenal and he has shown why Newcastle paid £63m to Real Sociedad last summer.
But the important thing is that this question regarding his fitness is the most important.
“Is he 100 percent ready to play 90 consecutive minutes? Probably not.” Here was Howe’s assessment ahead of Wolves’ game – before moving on to his point.
“He’s fit to play 90 minutes for another team, so no worries on his fitness. He’s very, very fit. He’s got a bit more to be fit 90 minutes for us, but that’s because Because we ask too much of him.” Our players It’s not a minor thing at that.
In fact, Newcastle are the top team in the Premier League when it comes to sprints. They are a ferocious, intense team with and without the ball.
Isaac is currently ranked 35th in the division for 90 minutes per sprint. Howe said, “He’ll get there. We’ll get him up to that level.”
The Newcastle boss has options, with Wilson desperate to get going again after Qatar struggled to rediscover his pre-World Cup form.
But a fit and firing Isaac could hold the key to a top-four finish.
We’ll see against Manchester United on Sunday if his moves in Stockholm with the Swede move him closer to where they need to be to get Newcastle back into the top four.
Watch Newcastle vs Man Utd live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm onwards on Sunday; Kickoff at 4.30 p.m.