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Although the full extent of the damage is not yet known, the fact that skipper Jamaal Lascelles left St. James’ Park on crutches on Saturday was bad news for Newcastle and his absence leaves a rather large gap in the side.
Newcastle have struggled badly in the last couple of games without midfielder Mike Merino in the ranks, the end result being two drab performances and a pair of 1-0 defeats. With Lascelles now missing too, optimism on Tyneside can turn to fear in the blink of an eye, but is it all that bad?
There’s no doubt Lascelles will be a big miss as captain. However, in terms of his defensive presence, he can be covered without too many worries. In order to accommodate Florian Lejeune, Lascelles had moved over from the right-hand side of the central defence to the left-hand side in recent games and will simply be replaced by last season’s best defender, Ciaran Clark.
The Irish international has been waiting patiently for his chance in recent games and will no doubt grab it with both hands. Midfielder Isaac Hayden can also play in this position as can Paul Dummett at a push. Chancel Mbemba cannot be forgotten about either and would slot into the central defensive position without any problems at all. So Lascelles’ loss on football basis is not a massive one.
His influence on his teammates though has been huge this season and that is what Benitez will miss most of all. Even at just 23 years of age, he has the ability to grab a team by the scruff of the neck and coax that extra 10% of effort out of them, also often popping up with a deciding moment when needed, such as his headed winners against Swansea and Stoke.
In Lejeune, Mbemba and Clark, Benitez has enough cover in his team to ensure that the defence doesn’t have a makeshift look, while I’m sure the captain will still make his voice heard at Whitley Park during training and in the changing room on match days too.
Should Lascelles’ injury prove serious then, of course, this will be a concern to Rafa but in the short to medium term, despite his obvious qualities, an absent Jamaal Lascelles is actually not too big a deal whatsoever.
The last hope for the gaffer is that Clark returns from Copenhagen and Dublin without any injuries, likewise Mbemba upon his return from Kinshasa.