Newcastle ended their pre-season schedule on Saturday with a win over Vitesse Arnhem, however that 3-2 victory was achieved without Chancel Mbemba.
It was no surprise to see Grant Hanley getting some minutes alongside Jamaal Lascelles but fans were surprised to see Mbemba not even on the bench.
The absence was reported on Saturday to be due to an ankle injury but Rafa Benitez has moved to reassure supporters, saying:
“He twisted his ankle in the training session. It is nothing serious but he couldn’t be here.”
It was an ankle injury that kept Chancel Mbemba out for nine weeks last season when he was forced off the pitch during the 3-0 defeat at Goodison Park.
A side issue to the fitness, or otherwise, of Mbemba was the captaincy issue.
The media appear split down the middle as to whether it will be Grant Hanley or Jamaal Lascelles who gets the job this coming season.
It appeared to be advantage Lascelles at the weekend as he was named captain for the fifth friendly in a row despite the presence of Hanley.
However, I think that it is very likely to come down to who Rafa Benitez sees as his first choice centre-backs.
Unless he went for an unlikely change of formation and played all three of Hanley, Mbemba and Lascelles, one of them won’t be starting the season.
Injury permitting, I think it is Chancel Mbemba plus one of the other two.
Obviously Lascelles and Hanley can play together but of the three I believe the DR Congo international is far more mobile than the other pair and will complement either of them far better than playing that duo together.
Whilst nobody expects this season to be plain sailing, it is great to see competition both for a place in the team and to lead the eleven. When you compare this to the nightmare of having Coloccini as captain for so many years and the likes of Sissoko (???) being the one the rest of the players are supposed to look up to and respect, I wouldn’t have any problem with either Hanley or Lascelles getting the job.