Newcastle United will give a debut to new signing Nabil Bentaleb against Oxford United in front a full house at St James’ Park as the hint of an FA Cup run has created a buzz of excitement in the city.
But Valentino Lazaro will not be play, despite completing his loan move from Inter Milan in time to train with his new teammates on Friday because of a delay in getting his international clearance.
Bentaleb’s desperation to impress as well as the return of Allan Saint-Maximin will make things even harder for the visitors from League One, but Bruce has always said he intends to take the cup competitions seriously for as long as he is on Tyneside.
He is the first Newcastle manager to do so since Kevin Keegan and the fans have responded, the club announcing the game was a sell-out – largely thanks to discounted tickets for kids – on Friday morning.
Bruce is delighted with that and cannot wait to let fans have a glimpse of the talent he believes the club have added this month.
“We have signed two players with a point to prove,” said Bruce, whose side sit seven points clear of the bottom three. “There are just not enough top players that we are all looking for, especially in January, so usually you look for a fall out with Bentaleb or someone who it's not gone so well with, like Lazaro at Inter. For us to get them two, that right quality, is vitally important.”
Bentaleb was dropped from the first team after he complained about the sacking of former Schalke manager Huub Stevens in the summer, while Lazaro struggled to hold down a place in the Inter side. “I don't think Bentaleb is a maverick, I don't think that's quite right,” Bruce said. “It's fair to say he will have an argument, but he wants to win and I've got no problem with that.
“The people I've spoken to, who had him before, Les Ferdinand, Tim Sherwood, they had no issues at all. I always check up and all the reports I came back with were nothing but positive.
“He's got himself into this situation because he's had a row with someone but how often have we seen that? It's our advantage. Up until last year, he was playing week in week out for a big club in Germany and playing in the Champions League, and playing very well too.
“Because of that situation, I think we have got ourselves a very good player. It's up to me to get the best out of him, manage him, and I am quietly confident that's what we will do.”
Bruce would still like to sign another striker and confirmed Telegraph Sport’s story that he is also interested in Tottenham left back Danny Rose. But it the team’s lack of goals that has been the major issue this season.
“I think the addition of Lazaro and Bentaleb will help us in that respect,” he added. “They can create and I think the creation of the team needs improving, too.
“It's alright just blaming the strikers but they have got to have the service. We don't cross it enough. This kid, Lazaro, will cross it in my opinion.
“We don't get a lot of chances but, mind you, for 50% of the games, we have been without Allan [Saint-Maximin] so he adds a big spark to us. He will cause anyone a threat. It's good to see him back - he will give us a chance. Lazaro and Bentaleb will certainly add to it.”