In the past month Rafa Benitez has been more or less completely devoted to a new five at the back formation, however his starting back three is something he can’t quite agree on.
Newcastle is spoiled for choice at centre-back this season with captain Jamaal Lascelles, Federico Fernandez, Fabian Schar and Ciaran Clark.
In recent weeks, even left back Paul Dummett has tried his hand in the ever revolving back three, and Florian Lejeune is still to return from a long term injury.
Injuries have of course played their part in Benitez’s rotation, but the likes of Clark and Schar have often found themselves out of favour.
But who really should be Benitez’s first pick?
The in-depth stats
Bold – best average per game
These stats don’t take into account goals conceded or clean sheets, as those who have played against much stronger opposition have conceded more goals.
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But the stats should show on average who has been the best performer overall in centre-back for Newcastle.
Jamaal Lascelles: 18 tackles in 16 appearances
Federico Fernandez: 14 tackles in 15 appearances
Ciaran Clark: 18 tackles in 10 appearances (3rd best average 1.8)
Fabian Schar: 24 tackles in 9 appearances (best average 2.6)
Paul Dummett: 7 tackles in 3 appearances as centre-back (2nd best average 2.3)
Jamaal Lascelles: 20 interceptions in 16 appearances
Federico Fernandez: 24 interceptions in 15 appearances(2nd best average 1.6)
Ciaran Clark: 10 interceptions in 10 appearances
Fabian Schar: 30 interceptions in 9 appearances (best average 3.3)
Paul Dummett: 5 interceptions in 3 appearances as centre-back (2nd best average 1.6)
Jamaal Lascelles: 15 blocks in 16 appearances (3rd best average 0.9)
Federico Fernandez: 11 blocks in 15 appearances
Ciaran Clark: 7 blocks in 10 appearances
Fabian Schar: 9 blocks in 9 appearances (2nd best average 1)
Paul Dummett: 4 blocks in 3 appearances as centre-back (best average 1.2)
Clearances (including headed clearances)
Jamaal Lascelles: 167 in 16 appearances (2nd best average 10.4)
Federico Fernandez: 144 in 15 appearances (3rd best average 9.6)
Ciaran Clark: 90 in 10 appearances
Fabian Schar: 107 in 9 appearances (best average 11.8)
Paul Dummett: 14 clearances in 3 appearances as centre-back
The top two
There’s some terrific numbers in there from the Newcastle back line, and some are quite surprising.
While Fabian Schar still hasn’t convinced some Newcastle supporters, he has the best averages per game in three of four key stats.
In the case of tackling and interceptions, his stats far outweigh everyone else and it’s bizarre he’s been benched in recent games.
Although he didn’t have a great game against Fulham, to not play the centre back in the last two matches was a mistake.
He clearly does a lot more work in defence than Benitez realises.
Also surprising is Paul Dummett performing remarkably in his new role.
His averages are perhaps better due to his lack of games, but it still makes positive reading.
If he can continue these rates, he may end up having a star turn as a centre back this season.
Fernandez or Lascelles?
There isn’t much between Fernandez and Lascelles in terms of stats.
For Benitez he likely feels both must play rather than one or the other, but perhaps he would benefit from dropping one to the bench.
Lascelles in particular has come under fire of late for some blunders, but the stats show he’s still one of Newcastle’s strongest selection choices.
Unfortunately though, it’s he or Fernandez who should be dropping to the bench, not Schar.
With Lascelles serving as Newcastle captain, Benitez would be unlikely to ever drop the defender when fit.
Based on that, Newcastle’s best back three is Schar, Lascelles and Dummett.
With Fernandez suffering a knock against Watford on Saturday, these three may well be Benitez’s starting centre-backs against Man United.