It seems impossible to talk about Newcastle United right now without mentioning injuries. A full treatment room at St James' Park has exacerbated a worrying slide down the Premier League as the unfamiliar dual demands of domestic and European football has taken its toll.
One of the plentiful French contingent on the Tyne is, however, putting his own injury problems behind him as Newcastle get set to face Wigan. Sylvain Marveaux looked set to join Liverpool last summer but when the deal broke down, a move to the north-east quickly materialised as an alternative.
It has been, it is fair to say, a frustrating opening stanza in to the 26-year-old's career in England. "I arrived injured," he recalls to ESPN, "and then at the moment when I got back to top speed, I got injured again, for almost six months. My season was a write-off. This time, I've been able to prepare well so now it's down to the manager (to choose). I've had a bit of trouble imposing myself in the first-team, but I'm trying to show little by little what I can bring to the side. So it's good to be able to be decisive."
That moment of decisiveness came in Europe 12 days ago, when Marveaux scored his first Newcastle goal in the Europa League match against Maritimo. It had taken the France Under-21 midfielder 900 minutes of first-team action to break his duck, but was worth the wait; after being set away by countryman Hatem Ben Arfa, Marveaux showed his finesse by rounding off a scuttling run with a cute near-post finish.
It was the sort of moment that suggested there could be plenty more to come. "It's difficult," he admits. "When you come in and you haven't played for a couple of weeks, it's physically hard. But that's how it is, and you just have to work hard in training to make sure you're ready." If Alan Pardew has lamented his team's heavy schedule this season, at least one of his players is grateful for the extra windows of opportunity, with another arriving later this week as Newcastle conclude their successful Europa League group campaign with a trip to Bordeaux.
"I've not played in France since I left Rennes, so it'll be nice. There are a lot of games and we're going to need everybody, especially as there are a lot of injuries in the squad at the moment. It's not easy [for the club], but the more matches we have to play, the better it is for me." As well as regaining peak physical condition, Marveaux has also had to establish a best position. His polished left-foot and relatively modest stature often sees him wrongly billed as a winger, but he emphasises that he is happiest in a central role.
"Yes, that's always been in my head," he affirms. "I've never been someone who's clung to the touchline all the time, looking to cross. I like to really get involved in the game in the centre of the pitch. That was my strength when I was at Rennes and I think it's important to try and play and the same way here. Of course, I have to adapt as well and the manager's been good at showing me how to do different things as well. So it's up to me to be able to combine the two.
Marveaux has not forgotten the club that launched him into the professional game. "I always follow their results," he says, "even if there aren't so many of my close friends left there." He admits to being thrilled by his old team's recent win at wealthy Paris Saint-Germain, an especially famous triumph given that Rennes pulled it off with just nine men. "Of course, their result in Paris, I celebrated that in exactly the way it needed to be," he smiles.
He is also pleased to see a similarly accomplished left foot to his own, that of Romain Alessandrini, thriving in Brittany, with Rennes' new star opening the scoring against PSG with a rocket from distance. "It was a great goal," he enthuses, "and especially to score one like that at the Parc des Princes...that'll stay with him for the rest of his life, I'm sure. He's scored a few goals now, and some great goals, which can only help for someone who's adapting to a new team."
Marveaux also has sympathy for the plight of former team-mate Yann M'Vila, after the coveted defensive midfielder's huge ban for an illicit night out while on international duty. "I don't know too much about it," says Marveaux. "I only know him a little bit, but of course I'm disappointed for him. I hope he can get it reduced with the appeal and have a better chance of getting to the World Cup. He's someone I played with a bit and I'm sure he can get back to his best form. I'm hopeful for him."
For the moment, Marveaux has his own targets. "For me, it's to put a run of matches together," he says. "It's hard to play once even two or three weeks." His opportunity could be in the offing as Newcastle aim to nip any fears of a relegation battle in the bud. "I hope to be able make a difference," he underlines, "especially as the team is going through a difficult spell. We have to raise the bar and get back into the upper part of the table." If Marveaux manages to definitively add his name to the list of sweet left feet to grace St James' Park down the years, it would be a big step in the right direction.