Rafa Benitez has shed some light on his decision to exclude Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba from his squads over the past month, explaining that it is ‘nothing special’, simply him picking from a competitive squad and looking for balance in each position from the bench.
The Serbian hadn’t featured since serving a three-game ban for elbowing West Ham United’s Manuel Lanzini in late August, but returned to the squad against Palace – possibly only due to the fact Dwight Gayle missed out through injury however?
Mbemba has also been nowhere to be seen in recent weeks, having failed to be included in ANY of Benitez’s last three matchday squad’s since he played at left-back in the 1-0 defeat to Brighton last month.
Here’s Rafa’s comments on the pairs exclusion, starting with Mitrovic:
“When you do the list, you have to choose your 11 starters. Sometimes you have a doubt or two, and, after, you have to pick players for the bench.
“Then, if you have a problem with a striker, who will you take? Over this time, it had been Dwight Gayle.
“You have seven players (on the bench) – normally six are very clear, a full-back, a midfielder, a keeper, a striker, a winger.
“Then you have another one and you say ‘this one or this one?’.
“It depends how your squad is, how your players are.
“If you have a player with a knock or a little problem, you say ‘maybe I have to bring someone just in case’.
“What has happened for us, in terms of strikers, is that we have Dwight now, who’s not available, so Mitrovic is there. That was the position.”
Rafa then commented on Mbemba’s situation – a player who has generally filled in well at left-back this season, however the Congolese defender has been dropped from the entire squad over the past month to many fans’ surprise:
“Chancel, we had (Florian) Lejeune coming back, so you have more centre-backs.
“We have full-backs who cam play on both sides – Manquillo can play on both sides, Jesus (Gamez) can play on both sides, so you say ‘why do we need another centre-back? We need a proper full-back’.
“It’s nothing special, it’s just that you have to pick your squad, your team and the players have to understand.”
Nothing too unexpected from Benitez here, but their exclusion over recent weeks only casts more doubts over their already dubious futures under the Spaniard.
He often lacked faith in them during our Championship season and despite Mitrovic’s superb form for Serbia and Mbemba’s strong end to last season and solid start to this, both appear to face an uphill battle to win over the gaffer.
They’re two promising players who love the club, so I’d like to see them be given more of a chance – especially Mitrovic, who for all his faults probably deserves a shot up top after Joselu’s lacklustre displays in the last two.
That pair must be worth well over £20m combined in today’s market, so as much as I’d like to see them do well, there is only so long we can keep them on our books if they’re to be used so sparingly?