Transfer Talk: Saint no guarantee Allan will stay in Toon
Allan Saint-Maximin has been in and out of high-flying Newcastle's squad this season and has not played a full 90 minutes in the Premier League since August due to injury.
Eddie Howe maintains the 25-year-old Frenchman is an integral part of his project and is keen to see him reach full fitness as soon as possible.
Toon currently sit third in the table and have one foot in the Carabao Cup final after beating Southampton 1-0 in the first leg of their semi-final last week.
But reports suggest AC Milan are keeping tabs on Saint-Maximin ahead of a potential summer move.
As Howe's men prepare for Tuesday's return leg against the Saints, we take a look at the Newcastle No10's situation in more detail.
Saint-Maximin has missed out on much of Newcastle's success this term after picking up a hamstring injury early in the campaign.
He was absent for eight league matches as Howe's men built a strong foundation for a top-four tilt.
The ex-Nice trickster started with a bang, tallying three goal contributions in the opening four matches, including two assists in the 3-3 draw against Manchester City.
But the team flourished without him and he has struggled to become a regular starter since returning to action.
Despite a league-best record of only 11 goals conceded and 12 clean sheets, the Tynesiders are yet to find fluency in the final third, netting only once in their last four top-flight outings.
Howe's men have had to settle for nine draws from their 20 games, meaning Saint-Maximin could still play a pivotal role in improving their end product in the run-in.
Fighting for his place
One forward who has thrived under Howe is Joelinton, who has been a revelation at St James' Park.
Often deployed on the left wing, the 26-year-old Brazilian's performances have had a negative impact on Saint-Maximin.
The free-wheeling star has been limited to only 123 Premier League minutes since his return to the fold, meaning he has been unable to replicate his impressive numbers from last season.
With 10 goal contributions for a side battling relegation at the time, the Paris native was playing with no fear and provided the entertainment factor for fans.
He averaged 7.72 take-ons attempted per 90 minutes in 2021-22 — only Wolves attacker Adama Traore had more.
Saint-Maximin created 50 chances for his team-mates last term but has only managed nine in 12 appearances in 2022-23.
Talk of the Toon
There is no doubt Saint-Maximin is a hero among the Newcastle faithful — his loyalty and willingness to stick with the club during the tough times was a foundation for their new-found success.
But when European giants are actively monitoring your situation, it is hard to keep your head down and perform at the top level.
Milan won the Serie A title last season and are reportedly looking for a contingency plan should Portuguese star Rafael Leao leave the San Siro.
A lack of game time in recent months has unsurprisingly frustrated Saint-Maximin, who is said to have already rejected moves to Sevilla and Villarreal this month.
His future has been called into further doubt after reports emerged that Newcastle are closing in on wantaway Everton youngster Anthony Gordon.
If another winger were to arrive, it would appear increasingly likely that Saint-Maximin's time on Tyneside would end long before his contract expires in 2026.
Despite being involved less frequently, Howe insists Saint-Maximin remains a key player.
The Toon boss, 45, said: "For me, if he's unavailable at any time, it's a disaster because he's unique and he's got those skills that any defender doesn't want to play against.
"He's a real character — and we love him for that. He's got a really nice personality, he's really good to work with.
"But like every player, he'll want to play, I've got no doubt about that, and he'll be pushing to play. But that's a great thing for us.
"He’s absolutely not in that role [as a substitute], he's a key player from the off when he’s 100% fit."
The clock is ticking towards Tuesday's transfer deadline and there could yet be a twist in the tale when it comes to Saint-Maximin's future.