Ciaran Clark started the season alongside Florian Lejeune when Newcastle were at home to Tottenham in the first game back in August.
But then Florian was injured after a poor tackle from Harry Kane in the first half and was out of the side for several weeks.
Ciaran and captain Jamaal Lascelles were the two in the middle as they had been all last season and they played well.
But then after the last International break, Rafa rested those players who had been away on International duty and Lejeune came in to partner Lascelles at Southampton.
Ciaran Clark – must be wondering what he did wrong
Lejeune gave away a late penalty in that game but otherwise looked class at the back, and he was good against Crystal Palace last weekend too.
So Ciaran Clark along with Chancel Mbemba – who hasn’t even made the last two squads – have to fight for their places in the first team.
This is Rafa’s plan that good players are fighting for their starting positions at Newcastle and the competition for places will only become even more severe after each of the next few transfer windows.
Rafa has explained the situation at the moment with his four center-backs as reported in the Chronicle:
“We have four defenders: 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 center-backs, fine – they can all play. If you want to play with two center-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 is now doing really well so Lejeune and Clark are competing. If Mbemba is right, it’s four.”
“For me, it is 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).
Chancel Mbemba had been playing at left back after Paul Dummett was also injured in the first half against Tottenham, and the DR Congo International played very well.
But Rafa has switched 23-year-old Javier Manquillo over to left-back, and the Spaniard has done well in that position over the last several games.
We are in the process of seeing Rafa Benitez build a top squad at Newcastle with the competition for places at the club becoming severe.
And while it was not a good summer transfer window for Newcastle, we see new signings Florian Lejeune, Christian Atsu, Javier Manquillo, Mikel Merino and Joselu all playing regularly for the first team.
Obviously, Rafa knew what he was doing in the summer even though we didn’t get his first choices through the door.