During pre-season, it was widely assumed that Newcastle United’s backline would be marshalled by captain Jamaal Lascelles and the pacey Chancel Mbemba.
However, now that the season is over 10 weeks old, it could be argued that the performances of both have been outdone by those of new boy Ciaran Clark.
Ciaran Clark arrived from rivals Aston Villa in the summer, to mixed reactions. Many thought that Clark’s performances last season were below par and that this form was likely to continue at Newcastle. They could not have been more wrong.
While Mbemba and Lascelles and Grant Hanley, the other senior club centre-back, rely heavily on their physical attributes to get them out of trouble, Ciaran Clark seems to have a superb football brain.
His reading of the game is second to none, leading to a number of key blocks, interceptions and challenges so far this season. For a central defender, he also has exceptional technique on the ball.
Clark has a good range of passing, he is comfortable receiving the ball and can also carry it forward, while being confident enough to step into midfield when needed.
In his eight games so far, Newcastle have won seven of them and drawn the other (Aston Villa), plus as an added bonus Clark has scored in the wins over QPR and Brentford.
He could already have cemented his place as Newcastle’s best centre-back – but that is not all. In the game against Bristol City, he also made a case as to why he is the best left-back at the club.
While Paul Dummett is solid defensively, he occasionally receives criticism for his ability on the ball. Something that Clark could not be criticised for. Clark, like the side’s current right-back Vurnon Anita, is a good distributor of the ball, while using his awareness and intelligence to pick the right moments to go forward and join in attacks.
This style may not be everyone’s preference, when it comes to playing full-back, with many fans preferring DeAndre Yedlin’s exciting, devil may care style. However, it does add solidity to the defence and at a time (v Bristol City) when Clark was playing in front of a struggling goalkeeper, in Matz Sels, his performance in that game deserves only praise.
If Clark continues this form, he may well prove to be one of the best signings that Rafa Benitez made this past summer and being in the company of; Matt Ritchie, Mo Diame and Dwight Gayle, that would be some achievement for the man whose arrival was met with derision from some supporters.
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