Monday saw Chancel Mbemba back in action, as DR Congo won 2-0 against Botswana in a friendly.
The Newcastle defender and his international teammates are at a training camp in Morocco and that is where the friendly was hosted on neutral ground, in Rabat.
Bournemouth’s Benik Afobe and QPR’s Yeni N’Gbakoto got the goals (the Newcastle defender got one assist) but it was Newcastle’s Chancel Mbemba wearing the captain’s armband at the final whistle, with usual skipper Gabriel Zakuani having been subbed.
The training camp and friendly are in preparation for a crucial game this Saturday (10 June), when DR Congo have an African Cup of Nations qualifier against Congo.
Back on Tyneside, some players look definitely on their way out: such as Vurnon Anita, Grant Hanley, Achraf Lazaar, Yoan Gouffran, Sammy Ameobi and so on.
Whilst others such as Jonjo Shelvey, Dwight Gayle, Ciaran Clark, Matt Ritchie, and Isaac Hayden, look nailed on to be forming a backbone of the team/squad as United step up to the Premier League.
Chancel Mbemba is one of those in between.
Recovering from injury, Mbemba missed the opening day defeat to Fulham but then played six of the next seven Championship matches.
A nightmare display from Mbemba and Lascelles saw a 2-0 home defeat to Wolves, Chancel Mbemba scoring an own goal, and either (or both) could have been dropped.
Maybe the captaincy saved Jamaal Lascelles but it was the DR Congo international who was dropped, only making one further Championship start in the next six and a half months, when Rafa made wholesale changes against Blackburn at home to rest players for the League Cup quarter-final at Hull.
Ciaran Clark took his chance superbly and was arguably Newcastle’s player of the season, alongside him though Jamaal Lascelles had a very up and down season, often struggling with a lack of pace.
Despite this, Chancel Mbemba wasn’t even mentioned and even when Newcastle’s form dipped after Christmas, the former Anderlecht player who had been one of the few to do himself justice in Newcastle’s relegation season, didn’t even get a look in.
Often he didn’t make the bench and yet even more surprisingly the journalists never pressed Rafa on why Mbemba wasn’t getting a chance, especially in light of Lascelles struggling.
Then in mid-March, Chancel Mbemba came out with a slightly off the wall offering.
Chancel Mbemba personal statement via his Twitter account – 17 March 2017:
“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.
“My wish is to come back stronger than ever and satisfy you, my fans, as I was able to do last season in the Premier League.
“Ecclesiastes 7: 8:
‘Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, better a patient mind than a haughty spirit’.
Injuries opened the door for Chancel Mbemba late on and he started five of the final seven Championship matches, including scoring his first Newcastle goal on the last day of the season, helping United clinch the title.
As he got his match fitness back in those late matches, Chancel Mbemba really started to look the part again, and many Newcastle fans wondered just how he would have done if paired with Ciaran Clark for much of the season.
Rafa Benitez’ decision to sideline Mbemba for so long, took on a further edge when it emerged that Jamaal Lascelles had been ‘playing through the pain barrier’ with an injury for the final five months of the season. The odd game when he (Lascelles) was paired with Grant Hanley making particularly uncomfortable viewing as they had zero pace between them.
Like Ciaran Clark, as well as being capable of being a very promising defender, Chancel Mbemba is also quick and comfortable on the ball, two massive positives in the Premier League.
Maybe he will be sold this summer but I hope Chancel Mbemba gets another chance, playing alongside Ciaran Clark we could have a very good Premier League partnership, especially when pace/mobility is so important in the top tier.
Newcastle though have been linked with a number of centre-backs, with Florian Lejeune still said to be a target, whilst NUFC allegedly wouldn’t meet Sporting Lisbon’s demands, with Ruben Semedo’s move to Villarreal confirmed on Tuesday.
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