Florian Lejeune is making a phenomenal recovery from a horrific knee injury in pre-season.
The Frenchman was expected to be out of action for the season a few months ago, but things are now looking more positive.
Lejeune has already returned to training this week and is making good progress.
It’s still not known when he’ll be fit to play, but given the speed of his recovery, it could be as early as December.
His return however poses something of a tactical headache for Rafa Benitez.
The centre-back formed a fine partnership with Jamaal Lascelles last season which was a key component of the team.
His performances helped Newcastle recover from a bad spell of form and they eventually finished tenth in the league table.
A few weeks ago, he would have walked back into Newcastle’s starting line-up.
But the recent form of Lascelles, Federico Fernandez and Fabian Schar means he has tough competition.
All three of those defenders will feel they have done enough to nail down a place in the team.
But recent comments from Rafa Benitez suggest they may have to make way for the Frenchman.
Benitez on Lejeune’s absence
Speaking to The Chronicle, Benitez said of Lejeune: “He was an important player for us, and after he’d settled down you could see his quality on the ball.
“He gave confidence to our other defenders. We have Federico Fernandez now at the moment but to have a player like Lejeune who can pass the ball really well and play long passes and switch play gives us something more.
“It gives you more in possession and sometimes we are missing that.”
It’s clear from these comments that Benitez is a strong admirer of Lejeune’s qualities.
And given he thinks that Newcastle are lacking something due to his absence, he’s likely to start when fit.
Fernandez and Schar must change Benitez’s mind
Fernandez is likely to be the most under threat from Lejeune, but he’d be disappointed to lose his place to him.
The Argentinian has been an imposing force at the back for Newcastle so far and is one of the team’s better performers.
Although he lacks the passing ability of Lejeune, the Toon arguably cant afford to not start someone in such good form.
If he can continue to impress over the next month, Benitez will have no choice but to keep him in the side.
But the return of Lejeune is even worse news for Schar.
The Swiss defender is already third choice centre-back behind Fernandez and Lascelles.
The last thing he wants to do is slip further down the pecking order.
Schar is probably the closest thing Newcastle have to Lejeune in terms of ball-playing ability. However, Benitez obviously has his reservations.
If Schar can continue to get game time, he must prove he can offer the same attributes as Lejeune while also matching his defensive capabilities.