Newcastle Boss Benitez Explains His Defensive Dilemma as He Urges Stalwarts to Step Up to the Plate

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Rafa Benitez has challenged Ciaran Clark to fight for the starting spot in defence, with the Spaniard currently preferring the pairing of 23-year-old captain, Jamaal Lascelles, and French signing Florian Lejeune, of late, which has flourished in recent weeks.

Contrarily, Clark, who was a pivotal part of Newcastle's successful Championship campaign last year, is set to remain on the bench for the clash against Burnley at Turf Moor on Monday.

Clark began the season as a regular starter alongside Lejeune, who was eventually replaced with Lascelles after suffering an ankle injury in the season opener. Upon his return from injury, Benitez had decided to put him back in the starting 11, alongside Lascelles.

When speaking on the issues regarding defensive decisions, Benitez said: “We have four defenders. (Chancel) Mbemba has been playing as a left-back and right full-back, because we didn’t have players for these positions in some games. 

“It’s difficult. I was explaining in an interview before – you have to pick 11 players for the game and seven for the bench. “So that’s simple. It’s mathematics. You have to leave seven, eight or nine players out. 

“If you want to play with three centre-backs, fine – they can all play. If you want to play with two centre-backs and a line of midfielders in front, someone has to go to the stands. 

“Because Lejeune and Clark were playing well during the pre-season, Lascelles had to improve – and he did that. 

“Jamaal’s now doing really well, so Lejeune and Clark are competing. If Mbemba’s right, it’s four.” 

Benitez has spoken highly of Lacselles's desire, after being left out of the starting 11 in pre-season, and seemingly wants to challenge Clark and Lejuene to battle for the starting spot. 

“For me, it’s not that one of them is better than the other one,

“It depends on the games. Maybe you have some injuries. One will play, the other will have to wait.

“I was talking with Jamaal, Mbemba, Clark and Lejeune about that. They have to compete.


“They have to be ready, because if tomorrow I say to one of them ‘you’re playing’, but he has not trained well and then does not play well, the fans will say ‘Rafa was right – he didn’t play because he is not playing well’. 

"They have to be ready, they have to compete. If you want to play for a top side in the Premier League, you have to be prepared to compete (for your place).” 

Benitez, has the best type of problem that a manager could ask for, with numerous defenders chomping at the bit, ready to fight for their chance to start.

Newcastle face Burnley away Monday night and a win would take them to sixth in the table.