Over the past few months, there’s been several members of the Newcastle United squad receive pockets of praise.
We’ve had Dubravka save Bruce’s bacon at times and put himself into the mix for player of the season, Manquillo has gone from zero to hero, Almiron and Shelvey have added goals to their game and found pockets of great form, Hayden has been credited for the sterling job he does in our engine room, Willems praised for some explosive displays before a season-ending injury, Fernandez lauded for rarely letting us down in defence and, last but not least, many have drooled over Saint-Maximin’s absolute brilliance.
One player who has barely got a mention, however, is Jamaal Lascelles.
You may be wondering why handing huge praise to our skipper would seem like an ‘unpopular opinion’, yet I never fail to see a surprisingly large number of comments on social media suggest he’s ‘lucky to be in the side over Schar’ or is ‘too limited on the ball’ to get a game every week.
He’s probably appreciated and adored by most Newcastle fans, but I still believe that far too many don’t realise just how vital he is to this side.
Not only are his leadership skills brilliant, having the ability to organise and motivate many players who’ve been in the game much longer than him, I feel it’s time that those who still have doubts began to appreciate that his dominant defensive skills totally outweigh his limitations on the ball.
In the air he’s monstrous – he headed just about everything out against Bournemouth last night – but these stats below also highlight how much players struggle to get past him, with there being only ONE player outside the ‘big six’ who’ve been dribbled past less than the 26-year-old:
He’s 6ft 2′ with a muscular build, but he’s no slouch. In fact, Isaac Hayden admitted in a recent episode of ‘teammates’ that Lascelles was up there alongside Saint-Maximin and Yedlin as one of the club’s fastest players!
That may be a bit of a stretch, but perhaps explains why people struggle to take him on given his mixture of pace, power and solid positioning.
OK, he’s not flashy and will never be described as a ball playing centre-back, but if there’s a cross into the box he’ll head it away, if there’s a shot to be blocked he’ll be there to stop it and if someone is trying to burst past him they’ll not often have much joy – as the above stats prove!
He can look a bit clunky in possession, with his lack of technical ability sometimes making the likes of Schar or Lejeune look much easier on the eye, however his ability on the ball has come on leaps and bounds since that promotion season.
I remember a guy who sits a few rows behind me at St James’ Park shouting “he’ll never be good enough for the Premier League” after he showed his limitations on the ball in home games we often dominated in the second tier, but he’s clearly worked on that side of the game. He’s by no means a ball playing centre-back all of a sudden, however he steps out of defence with the ball when he can, doesn’t look scared to carry it into space anymore and can also pick out a cross field pass or quick ball down the line much better than he used to be able to.
He’s had lapses over the years and has sometimes suffered during spells where he’s had to play through the pain, but I believe he doesn’t get enough credit for his ability as an imposing centre-back who does all the simple stuff brilliantly.
We have an extremely talented group of centre-backs and FIVE other reliable options in Fernandez, Clark, Schar, Lejeune and Dummett, but the one defender we ALWAYS look more solid with in the side is our skipper.