Our current squad possess arguably the most talented pool of defenders we have seen at Newcastle United in recent years. Both Fabian Schar and Florian Lejeune were bought to Tyneside during the stewardship of Rafa Benitez, but which defender is your preferred player?
The stats throughout the article will relate to the players first season in the Premier League. This approach was used as they both made the exact same number of appearances throughout their debut season (24).
Starting with the younger of the pair, Fabian Schar joined Newcastle for just £3 million in the summer of 2018 following the relegation of his former club Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga.
If you would like a detailed look at Schar’s journey to the North East, feel free to check our Player Insight article featuring Fabian Schar!
His debut in black and white did not go entirely to plan, giving away a dubious penalty to Chelsea for bringing down Marcos Alonso in the box. Although the defence remained solid throughout the game, they were not awarded for their efforts, as we eventually lost 2-1.
This debut performance did not reflect the path that Schar’s Newcastle would take, as he has since become one of the best defenders, not only at the club, but in the Premier League. He distributes a calm and steady aura when in possession of the ball, while consistently excels with his defensive responsibilities.
The main strength of the Swiss defender is the high press style he utilises, while his decision making is usually spot on. We have been accustomed to seeing Schar step out of the defensive line to make a tackle, highlighted by making 60 tackles in his debut season. Often when he wins the ball in this area, he marauds up the pitch with the ball at his feet, allowing the team to transition from defence to attack.
In the opponents half, Schar does not act like the common central defender. He has the ability to beat a man, pick out an accurate pass, or take a strike at goal.
In terms of drawbacks for Schar, the list is not a long one.
Since his arrival we have not seen the Swiss make too many mistakes, with just a misplaced pass against Manchester United coming to mind, in a game that was already beyond us. Although his eagerness to win the ball back is a strength, it can also be argued this is a weakness in his game.
When stepping up our backline loses its shape, and if possession is not won it leaves us vulnerable to an attack. Fabian Schar therefore commits a lot of fouls to prevent the attacking phases in which he could not recover possession. He made 28 fouls in his debut season, accumulating 12 yellow cards in the process.
Just as Schar did, Lejeune also left La Liga behind when joining Newcastle United. He was bought to the club, following our promotion back to the Premier League, with Rafa Benitez keen to add an experienced ball playing central defender to his backline.
Lejeune made his first appearance for Newcastle United against Tottenham Hotspur. He was performing excellently, displaying all the credentials of an experienced Premier League defender on his debut, however it ended prematurely following a nasty tackle from Harry Kane who somehow escaped a red card.
From that moment onward, injuries have unfortunately been a recurring theme throughout the Frenchman’s spell in the North East. A cruciate ligament rupture kept him out of 21 games, before a knee injury extended his stint on the sidelines by another 16 games.
Whatever it may be, either unlucky incidents, or an incident prone trait, this must go down as Lejuene’s main weakness. With him out of action for long spells, it is only natural for his match day fitness, and performance levels to drop. With the Frenchman recently turning 29, if he suffers another serious injury, we could potentially never see the same player return.
With injuries aside, I dont believe the Frenchman has any real weaknesses in his game. Admittedly he is not the quickest option we have at our disposal, however his defensive style accommodates for this.
As opposed to Schar, Lejeune is often our last line of defence, holding the backline firm when others push forward. This can be shown with a lower number of tackles during his debut season, with only 33 being made.
The Frenchman also portrays a more demanding figure in our area winning more aerial battles, with 83 of these being won across his first season in English football. Although Lejeune also has the eye for an accurate long range pass, he better fits the stereotype of an old-school defender. For the element of pace that he lacks, he possesses a substantial amount of experience and understanding of the game to overcome this.
In an ideal world, we could have both of these defenders in our line up, but that is not what this series is about! In having to pick a preferred player I would opt for Fabian Schar.
The difficulty in the decision underlines the quality in depth our backline offers, while the main reason for this choice was not of the shortcomings of Lejeune, but rather the incredible consistency of Schar.
It can be assumed that Schar was originally bought to Tyneside to act as cover for Lejeune due to his injury problems. However, after settling in to the team, and excelling in each aspect of his game, Schar has perhaps become the favoured option for our starting lineup.
We will need to show an ambition to keep hold of Schar, who is clearly a supremely talented footballer. He has shown this throughout his career, both domestically and on the international stage. In terms of Premier League clubs, I cannot think of one who would snub the opportunity to acquire his services, especially when you consider we only paid £3 million for him!
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