Rafa Benitez has constantly surprised with his team selections throughout the season but one thing has remained a constant.

Jamaal Lascelles and Chancel Mbemba were the first choice centre-back partnership early in the campaign, following on from that promise shown at the end of last season when helping Newcastle to end with six Premier League matches unbeaten.

Then the pair had a disastrous game at home to Wolves, the scoreline 0-2 and the defensive duo all over the place throughout the 90 minutes.

Either of them could have been dropped but the captain’s armband probably saved Lascelles and it was Mbemba who was dropped, Ciaran Clark getting a proper run in the team and never looking back. For Chancel Mbemba everything  went in the other direction, seemingly made a bit of a scapegoat as he was then left totally sidelined and even Grant Hanley preferred when occasionally changes were made.

It has been a strange one because Chancel Mbemba showed last year in the Premier League that he was the best centre-half (and defender overall) at Newcastle, then this campaign Ciaran Clark has done the same – indeed being comfortably Newcastle’s best player overall.

Yet the two have started a game together only twice.

The first was back in August when Newcastle won 1-0 at Bristol City BUT Ciaran Clark had a game at left-back, with Mbemba playing alongside Lascelles.

The only other occasion was when Rafa had a big shuffle of the team ahead of the League Cup quarter-final at Hull, for the first time Clark and Mbemba played together in the middle.

They looked fine and did very little wrong, Blackburn won 1-0 but it was one of only two efforts they were allowed on target and the goal came from a set-piece rather than open play. The defeat wasn’t down to them, rather that the team only had two shots on target of their own as they struggled to create against a very poor Blackburn side.

Chancel Mbemba bizarrely found himself dropped after the Leeds match, despite Jamaal Lascelles continuing to struggle and totally losing Wood for that late equaliser.

With Mbemba left out, Rafa put Hanley back in with Lascelles at Ipswich and they had a nightmare, the pair are always going to be handicapped by the fact they have zero pace and are terrible when in possession, whilst in that 3-1 defeat nothing in their game went right.

Thankfully Ciaran Clark came back against Preston, playing alongside Lascelles, and promotion was secured.

Clark and Mbemba are both quick, comfortable on the ball, and surely have been worth more of a try together this season than Rafa has given them.

I don’t think anybody thinks Grant Hanley could do it in the Premier League, whilst it appears most Newcastle fans have had increasing doubts about Lascelles being able to handle the top tier as this season has progressed.

On the other hand, Ciaran Clark is one of the few current players who would carry maximum faith of fans when stepping up a division and surely Chancel Mbemba is worth another chance, he has natural ability and could potentially do it in the Premier League – something that I just don’t see with Lascelles and Hanley.

Tonight we are set to see a rare double outing by default, as Rafa Benitez has confirmed both Hanley and Lascelles won’t be part of the squad.

I would hope that if Mbemba does ok alongside Clark against Cardiff, they are given another chance against Barnsley, regardless of whether the likes of Lascelles is fit.

The odds are against it but just maybe Chancel Mbemba has a small chance of being part of Newcastle United next season in the Premier League.

Rafa Benitez – Thursday 27 April:

“In terms of injuries, we have some players who were playing with little problems – Lascelles, Ritchie, Hanley, Anita. Also, Gamez has a problem and Gayle is still not available.

“So with these players, we will try to fix their problems now because we have more time.

“They will not be in the squad (for Cardiff).

“If everything is fine, they will be ready as soon as possible, not for this game but maybe for the next game (final day v Barnsley).”

(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])

  • Keeganontherebound

    It is strange that Mbemba hasn’t featured more. He looked at home in the premiership and hasn’t done much wrong when picked. Rafa assumedly feels that Lascelles brings something extra to the team as captain but even then, I would have liked to have seen Mbemba get a run of games as a defensive midfielder ahead of Diame/Colback. I hope he isn’t sold. The thought of Hanley getting game time in the premiership is pretty scary.

  • MichaelMaximusMoose

    Jose, Pep, Klopp, Rafa, those managers will never admit to an error of judgement
    Hart, Shaw, Sturridge all top players & England internationals, all dropped.
    my opinion is Lascelles wont last a dozen games in the premiership.
    Mbemba, when selected this season has been played on the left when all his career to date he`s played on the right.
    he can also play in 3 positions

  • nevfur

    My only concern is whether or not Mbemba and Clark are too similar and good enough in the air if the opposition have a big target man, or two, or if both tend to be best alongside a big CB. However I certainly do want to see them given a try and think both are very good defenders and the younger Mbemba can learn a lot from the more experienced Clark. I definitely want both to stay with us and was also puzzled as to why Mbemba was not used as a defensive midfielder when Hayden was injured as he plays there for his national team. He is certainly an option squad wise for the position for next season and some versatility in the squad is good for both the team and the player.

    • Damon Horner

      Clark should be good enough in the air in my view, there are better out there but there are certainly worse.
      Shame the injuries to two defenders have come now because Mbemba as a Defensive midfielder is a good option and this is a time without added pressure to try it. I hope he gives that a good in pre-season although he needs to vastly improve his ball retention.

  • hetonmag

    Personally Clarke would be my LB in place of Dummett.

  • toonterrier

    Maybe Rafa would be happy if we lost the last two games to force the owner to spend big bucks for next season or if he wont get the wallet out then Rafa could walk away with his head held high.

  • Wor Monga

    Well Clark is good enough in the air, and strong on the ground…all in all you can’t ask for much more of a CD, but Mbemba (who’s fan club are regularly beating the drum for him on here) has failed miserably in the air this season, and that’s the most direct route to goal in the Championship (although not in the PL)…

    …Rafa would never have left him out as much if he could have trusted him for the aerial challenges, but one thing is certain and that’s that Benitez knows a proper CD when he sees one!!!

  • Damon Horner

    I’d prefer backing all of our players but the selective scrutiny when it comes to the error log is laughable, Mbemba has made three major mistakes in the few games he played including heading into his own net and it’s only the poor finishing of Fletcher that stopped it being three conceded as a result whereas Lascelles not tracking a player coming from a deep position in a 4vs4 situation with an absent midfield is apparently unacceptably poor. Mbemba is a good defender but lets not pretend he is faultless.

  • Franzcarrsuperstar

    I grow so tired of this badmouthing of Lascelles from a few of the writers on here. It is total rubbish that he has zero pace and can’t play with the ball. A myth that some people casually drop into articles as if it were an accepted fact. Jamaal Lascelles is our captain and has helped guide us back to the premier league.

    Of course he will play against Barnsley if fit. He is the captain and deserves his lap of honour just as much as every player. Probably even more. Mbemba is a promising young player, too. He has a bit to prove, and to improve, just like Lascelles does. The difference between the two is Lascelles’ leadership ability, which is why he has been a mainstay of the team. Hopefully both players will develop and improvs with us in the premier league next year and we can cheer both on.

    • Albert Stubbins

      you’re right-Lascelles is class- a young lad who has had two possibly three bad games all season-he will play a big part next season. If hes so bad why did Rafa make him captain? most of the haters on here are clueless and wouldn’t know a decent player from a carthorse. Half of them are probably the same ones who booed gary speed after his first few games- yes- you know who you are.