Newcastle players ‘running on empty’ as Premier League safety nears, admits Steve Bruce

Steve Bruce has admitted that his Newcastle United players are “running on empty” with the “brutal” impact of coronavirus still taking its toll on the club.

The Magpies were forced to close their training ground at the end of November after positive cases were recorded, with captain Jamaal Lascelles, fellow defender Federico Fernandez and midfielder Allan Saint-Maximin all suffering lengthy spells out of the side as they dealt with the repercussions of the virus.

All three are now back, but as he prepared his team for Friday night’s Premier League trip to Leicester, Bruce admitted the illness and the disruption it has caused to the fixture list have left their mark.

He said: “Hey, listen, a lot of people are running on empty because it’s been non-stop, basically, for two years, especially the players. The players desperately need a break.

“I’ve never experienced anything quite like when Covid hit, and when it hit us after Crystal Palace, how ruthless and brutal it was.

“It ripped through everybody at the training ground – and it wasn’t just then: ‘Okay, you’ve got Covid and you’re going to recover.’ People didn’t recover. Everywhere I looked, people were shattered, tired, sick.

“That, for me, has been the most difficult part – are people ready? Are they not? What’s the long-term effect? It threatened a couple of players in particular, the illness.

“In that respect, it’s been the most difficult [thing] to really come to terms with because we’ve all experienced times that we hope never happen again.”

Newcastle’s form took an alarming dip as illness and injuries played their part, slipping into relegation trouble ahead of a run of just one defeat in eight games before going down 2-0 against Arsenal last Sunday edged them to the brink of safety.

Victory at the King Power Stadium would all but mathematically end their fears, but that will be easier said than done against Brendan Rodgers’ men as they attempt to secure a top-four finish.

Asked if he was envious of his opposite number, Bruce said: “I’m delighted for Brendan, I’m delighted for a British manager.

“They nearly got to the Champions League last year and it looks as if they’re going to do to this year. That, for Leicester, is for everybody to admire.

“I don’t think you can be envious, but you admire them because of where they’ve come from as a football club in the last few years.”

PA

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