Newcastle captain Jamaal Lascelles and winger Matt Ritchie were involved in a furious training-ground scrap and had to be separated by team-mates.
Sportsmail can reveal that an argument between the pair during a practice session spilled over into the dressing-room at the club’s North Tyneside base.
It is understood Lascelles then physically confronted Ritchie and the pair were dragged apart by other players.
Jamaal Lascelles (left) and Matt Ritchie (right) were involved in a furious training-ground scrap
Ritchie, it is said, had taken issue with Lascelles on the training pitch towards the end of last week after the skipper voiced his disapproval over Rafa Benitez’s decision to play with a five-man defence for Sunday’s visit of Chelsea.
A source told us: ‘Ritchie was basically saying, “Just get on with it, even if you don’t like it, it’s the manager’s choice”. They had a row on the pitch but it wasn’t finished there. It all flared up again and Lascelles went for Ritchie in the changing-room.’
Benitez was in a different room at the time of the incident but soon had it out with both players, who shook hands afterwards and agreed to move on. It is thought the pair remain good friends and Benitez is happy with the resolution.
Lascelles was pictured in the stands at St James’ Park on Sunday afternoon at the game
But there are clearly some concerns with Lascelles, who was also involved in a training-ground fight with Mo Diame last year during which midfielder Jonjo Shelvey suffered a broken finger when he attempted to calm the bust-up.
As we reported at the weekend, Lascelles was not comfortable with Benitez’s plan to use three centre-backs versus Chelsea and let his feelings be known. This annoyed some team-mates and was quickly picked up on by Benitez.
The boss had a frank discussion with the 24-year-old – who apologised – but insists the player then missed the 2-1 defeat against Chelsea after reporting an ankle injury.
Lascelles is thought to have voiced his disapproval at the manager’s defensive formation
Benitez and Lascelles have always had a good relationship and it is said there are no problems going forward. The defender will miss Wednesday’s League Cup tie at Nottingham Forest but is set to return for Saturday’s trip to Manchester City.
There is, though, concern within the club at the manner in which Lascelles was linked with a £25million switch to West Ham over the summer. There are fears that outside influences could be attempting to manufacture a move for a player they do not want to sell and who remains popular with supporters.
The club, Lascelles and Ritchie declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Benitez says he would have played a stronger side for Wednesday’s game at the City Ground if owner Mike Ashley had backed him during the transfer window.
Rafa Benitez is happy with the resolution following the heated argument between the pair
The Magpies – who returned a £21m profit during the summer – will make wholesale changes for the tie, despite their trophy drought entering a 50th year.
But Benitez, when asked if he could have prioritised the cup competitions more on the back of better business, said: ‘Yes, clearly. You have to manage your squad. Depending on the transfer window, your squad is stronger or not. You have to manage the team.
‘You think that you can win the cup if everything is right. But you saw the bench of Chelsea the other day. They had a world champion on the bench. Yes, on the bench. So that means they can play this competition with players that will still be top-class.
‘So playing with your “best XI” until the end, and the chance you will be better than all of these teams, it really is not too big.’