The ongoing absence of Chancel Mbemba has been an increasingly big talking point amongst Newcastle fans.
United’s best defender last season, the most expensive defensive signing at the club and no doubt highest paid.
Yet Chancel Mbemba has started only one league game (when Rafa made numerous changes for the Blackburn home game before the Hull quarter-final) in the last six months and has only made the bench once in the past 11 weeks.
With Ciaran Clark’s injury against Fulham on top of DeAndre Yedlin’s, it leaves Newcastle with no pace at the back and also nobody comfortable on the ball.
Chancel Mbemba has both qualities and in his career has even played in midfield at times.
Friday afternoon brought a surprising and defiant/uplifting twist to the debate when releasing a very interesting personal statement to the Newcastle fans, talking about his absence.
“Despite my minimal playing time this season I am here and not giving up.
“I continue to train ardently and seriously and I will not give up until I find my place in the team.”
It is difficult not to take his words as confirmation that there have been issues behind the scenes and that he doesn’t feel as though he has had a fair crack of the whip.
Rafa Benitez though was ever the diplomat when asked about the DR Congo defender disappearing from the scene.
“Chancel Mbemba has been training well, (so) yes (he is in contention for Birmingham). This group of players train really well and they realise we are close to the end.
“When he came back from the Africa Cup of Nations, he missed a couple of games because he had some little problems and the team was doing well.
“Grant Hanley was training really well and when you have to pick the 18 players (for a matchday squad), sometimes you say that ‘I don’t need another one’ and you pick another midfielder, a full-back, or a striker.
“Now he is training well and I’m happy with that. We will see if we need him or not.
“If the others are doing well and the team is strong in defence, you don’t want to change too many.
“Then, when you have to put players in the squad, you have to pick players you will need during the game.”
This gives a little extra added interest when it comes to seeing just who Rafa Benitez picks in his team and on the bench at Birmingham this afternoon.