Rafa Benitez feels the loss of Ciaran Clark has upset the balance of his Newcastle United defence.
Clark has been sidelined for the past month with a knee problem.
To have him playing on this side gives you better possession of the ball, especially when you’re playing at home.Rafa Benitez
Benitez says the defender is “very close” to a comeback, but he won’t be involved against Leeds United at St James’s Park tonight.
Newcastle conceded two poor goals in last weekend’s 2-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.
And United manager Benitez believes the loss of left-footed Clark, signed from Aston Villa last summer, has had a significant impact on his team.
Asked about the loss of Clark, Benitez said: “To miss Shelvey (through suspension), to miss Gayle, Clark, Hayden and Colback.
“We have had some key players who were doing well. It’s something you have to manage. Clark was one of the best defenders when he got injured. (Grant) Hanley and Chancel (Mbemba) are trying to fill the gap, but the difference between them is Clark is left-footed.
“To have him playing on this side gives you better possession of the ball, especially when you’re playing at home.”
Clark and striker Dwight Gayle are the only two players left in Newcastle’s treatment room.
Benitez is hopeful that Gayle – who suffered a hamstring problem at Hillsborough – will be able to play again this season.
“We have good news for our fans,” said Benitez. “It’s just Clark and Dwight not training with the team.
“Dwight is not very serious. Clark is very close. We don’t like to put a time on Dwight, it depends on how he progresses.”