When Jamaal Lascelles was injured back in November, following a cynical foul from Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson, there didn’t appear to be much alarm.
Lascelles was ruled out until the New Year with knee ligament damage and the opinions of many Newcastle fans on social media and in the pubs was that he wouldn’t be missed, such was our strength in depth in the centre back department. I even saw and heard quite a few people saying we’d be better off without him.
Now football is full of opinions and mine is a strong one, that we are a better team when our skipper plays. It’s there in statistics, and to the naked eye. I spent my Monday morning rewatching the game against Chelsea, of course for the most part it was an unpleasant task due to Chelsea’s domination of the ball, but the performances of Lascelles, Fernandez and Clark were simply outstanding.
Both of the latter have enjoyed higher ratings and more praise in most match reports I’ve read since Saturday’s win than our captain, but Lascelles presence was a big factor why they both played so well. He simply makes his defensive partners play better, and the team defend better as a whole when he is on the pitch, and he has done this for his entire Newcastle career.
His constant communication and cajoling of his fellow centre backs to get into position and hold their shape is so crucial, and so evidently missed when he isn’t there. He leads by example, demands the best from those around him, and the defence seem to stand taller as individuals and function better as a unit with him in it. In the 2017/18 season we finished on 44 points. Only 1 of those points was won in the 6 games he didn’t start. This season, Fernandez and Schar’s performances have dipped without him at times. My own opinion is that Chelsea would probably have scored on Saturday without him.
Last season actually started with Benitez leaving him out after he had criticised the decision to play 3 centre backs against Chelsea in the 2-1 home defeat in August , a rare blot in his captaincy copybook (well other than chinning Mo Diame for being lazy and subsequently breaking Jonjo Shelvey’s finger in training!)
Thankfully Benitez saw the bigger picture and restored him back to the team immediately and retained him as skipper. It was this outspoken nature that actually got him the job when he launched a scathing attack on teammates during a 3-1 defeat at Southampton during the 2015/16 relegation season.
Lascelles was heard saying “no one gives a ****” as he stormed down the tunnel, and then gave a very critical assessment of the mentality of some of his teammates in a MOTD interview.His words that day resonated with every Newcastle fan, and impressed his manager.
He has been a fantastic captain for Newcastle United over the last 3 and a half years and long may it continue. Sadly I’m not sure international recognition will come, certainly not while Gareth Southgate is in charge of the national team, as he doesn’t seem to fit the system. One thing is absolutely certain, there are worse centre backs than Jamaal Lascelles who have won England caps in the last couple of years. I personally, hand on heart wouldn’t swap him for Maguire or Stones.
Do we have defenders who are technically better footballers than him? Absolutely. Do we have any who are better defenders, that is up for debate. Do we have any that are more important than our captain? Absolutely not.