Will Newcastle United miss Jamaal Lascelles and what is the Magpies BEST back three? Our NUFC writers have their say
Newcastle United were rocked by the news that Jamaal Lascelles will miss at least two months of football – and at the busiest time in the Premier League calendar.
The Magpies are well-stocked at centre-half but it was a body blow to Steve Bruce’s starting XI, which has looked good at both ends of the pitch over the last few weeks.
So, this week, our writers are tackling defenders. Liam Kennedy and Jordan Cronin take part in our regular Toon Trending Topic Q&A, with Lascelles, contracts and systems the topic of conversation.
How big a miss is Jamaal Lascelles?
LK: “There’s a train of thought among the United fanbase which champions the idea Lascelles’ injury will no bad thing for Newcastle. In a way, I kind of get that thinking but it’s not one I agree with. Yes, Newcastle are well-stocked defensively and Lascelles is deemed to be not as skilled in certain departments as his other defenders. But the leadership, solidity and stability, as well as his aerial prowess in both boxes is what makes him stand out from the pack.”
JC: “Of course the captain will be a miss. I don’t think his leadership on the field should be underestimated and he compliments the central role in the back three really well. He is arguably Newcastle’s best defender in the air but ultimately the blow will be lessened by the strength-in-depth. Paul Dummett was unlucky to lose his place, so will slot straight back in. We’ll see in the next few weeks Florian Lejeune pushing for a start. It all seems to be falling into place in the defence at the moment.”
Who do you rate as Newcastle's best defender and why?
LK: “Now this is a tough question. Lascelles is the most physical. Federico Fernandez is probably the best all rounder. Paul Dummett rarely every lets United down. Ciaran Clark is a revelation in both boxes while Florian Lejeune and Fabian Schar are fantastic footballers. For me, it has to be a toss up between the last two. Schar’s mobility probably means he edges it for me.”
JC: “This is a tough one as all bring something valuable, This might seem a bit of a weird one given he had barely been in the side previously but I’m going to have a punt at Ciaran Clark. When he plays, he never lets Newcastle down. He reads the game well and actually carries the ball forward extremely well too. And let's not forget he has a tendency of chipping in with goals, which is vital at the moment due to the club’s misfiring forwards.”
Which three players would you select, if all fit, in the central defensive roles?
LK: “I think the best three players are Fernandez flanked by Schar and Lejeune, but I do find it very difficult not to select Lascelles in my starting XI. He will be missed for the next few months, especially when the going gets tough in December.”
JC: “Another tough one! I’ll go with Schar, Fernandez and Clark. Leaving Lascelles, the captain, and Lejeune out is very difficult but I like the idea of having a left-footer on the left side of the defence. It’s a good selection headache for Bruce as all, alongside Dummett, are very capable defenders.”
Should Federico Fernandez get a new contract? His deal runs out in the summer.
LK: “You can’t keep them all. That has to be something which is assessed moving forward. If Lascelles is the skipper and Schar the one you definitely want to tie down, while Dummett is the local lad who is unlikely to want to go anywhere, that leaves three. And on any given matchday, if all are fit, two will miss out. If it was down to me I’d keep Clark and Fernandez, because both are top class, international defenders. I tend to think one of these two will be shown the door at the end of the season – and Fernandez, at this stage, looks the most likely.”
JC: “Absolutely. There is no debate to be had. Under any other owner, you’d bank on Fernandez being offered a new contract. However, because it’s Mike Ashley, and because the Argentine is 30-years-old, I do fear he might be one that will be let go. Seems like it could be a similar situation to Mo Diame. The player wants a longer-term contract, Newcastle want a one-year deal. We’ll see.”
Are these defenders only capable of playing in a three or do you think Steve Bruce has the versatility there to switch to a four, if needed?
LK: “A four is what Bruce has always seemingly wanted to play. And you know what, I think the majority of these defenders can play it, but from the full-backs to the centre-halves, few you would say are better suited to a flat back four. Jetro Willems and DeAndre Yedlin would, all of a sudden, be much deeper. And Schar, Clark or Lejeune would be restricted to defending, rather than carrying the ball forward. Bruce could play it, but why would you change something that seems to work so perfectly.”
JC: “A back three best suits Newcastle and I’d be fully against the idea of going to a four. That said, if absolutely necessary, it’s all about the personnel. I don’t think Schar is effective when playing in a two. You then have a case of forcing the full-backs to sit deeper. But, for example, we’ve seen under Rafa Benitez the partnership Lascelles and Lejuene built up during the back end of the 2017/18 season. All in all, Bruce would have to make some big calls.”