Ahead of Newcastle’s match at home to Chelsea last month, rumours surfaced of a training ground bust-up between two of the most experienced members of the team; Matt Ritchie and captain Jamaal Lascelles.

Newcastle’s eventual 2-1 defeat to Maurizio Sarri’s Blues has formed part of a poor start to the season.

The rough early run of fixtures – the Magpies have already faced Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City as well as the Blues – has obviously contributed, but other factors are at play.

Issues on and off the field

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Off the pitch, there is discord between Benitez and Mike Ashley; the owner has also been the subject of renewed protest in recent weeks.

It remains to be seen whether Ashley has furnished Benitez with a squad adequate to survive, let alone replicate or better last season’s shock 10th place finish.

While in-fighting at training may provide another cause for concern, Ritchie’s comments paint a picture of a small tiff between two fiercely competitive players who are desperate for the club to survive.

In his own words

(Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

According to the Star, Ritchie said of the incident: “We had a difference of opinion and a discussion about it. A lively discussion.

“Jamaal and I are two of the more vocal characters, very similar in the way we train and conduct ourselves.

“It was something which got overheated but it was nothing personal and 20 minutes later, everything was fine.”

One thing Newcastle will need to overcome their lack of spending power is fight and unity. Ritchie’s comments show that both are present within the squad.

That should provide hope that results will improve when Newcastle begin to play the teams around them.

In terms of the Ritchie/Lascelles incident, it seems Newcastle have bigger fish to fry, on and off the pitch.