The struggling Newcastle player that nobody wants to mention
Rafa Benitez is having to make plenty of brave decisions, as he firefights the problems at St James Park.
Years of stupidity and neglect have left an unbalanced squad, low on talent and even lower when it comes to character.
This was epitomised by Fabricio Coloccini, only a handful of quality performances since 2011/2012 and desperate to leave, yet somehow retained the captaincy AND was unbelievably given a new extended contract last summer.
Having thankfully got Coloccini out the door, Rafa needed a new Captain, step forward Jamaal Lascelles.
This was possibly the manager’s bravest decision, a demoralised relegated team desperately in need of leadership, and he entrusted it with the former Forest defender.
Before kicking off this season as Newcastle captain, Jamaal Lascelles had only previously started 10 league games for NUFC.
Playing alongside Chancel Mbemba, the two centre-backs put in a handful of decent performances at the end of last season, though to be honest, Lascelles probably attracted most of the positivity due to his very public slating of the rest of the squad, accusing players of not caring or trying hard enough.
By signing Blackburn Captain and Scottish international Grant Hanley, it means only two places for three players, with Chancel Mbemba having been Newcastle’s best defender last season.
The season started with Jamaal Lascelles alongside Grant Hanley (Mbemba not having trained due to injury), then alongside Mbemba when Huddersfield visited (Hanley presumed to be injured as he wasn’t even on the bench).
In three hours of football so far, Newcastle have struggled to create enough chances but have been largely untroubled at the back, apart from the small matter of individual mistakes costing three goals and two defeats.
What I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere, is that all three goals saw Jamaal Lascelles at fault.
Against Fulham, it was the Newcastle captain who allowed Matt Smith a free header from the corner, some yards away from the player as he headed home unchallenged.
On Saturday, the ball was crossed low from the left and marking Nahki Wells, Lascelles left his man and tried to intercept the ball. Missing it totally, the ball reached the unmarked Wells and under no pressure he steered it into the bottom corner.
The Huddersfield winner continued the pattern, Mbemba was probably fouled and arguably should have been stronger out on the right touchline, but when the ball was played into Jack Payne in the middle of the pitch, he still had Lascelles in front of him, with Sels in the Newcastle goal.
As other Newcastle defenders rushed back, Payne steadied himself just outside the box and Jamaal Lascelles made the bizarre choice of standing a few yards off the player, instead of closing down the shot.
Payne’s strike went past Lascelles who had left Matz Sels unsighted, the ball ending up in the bottom corner.
Interesting in the coverage of that match, I struggled to see any criticism of Lascelles for the goal and indeed I read journalists and heard some fans, trying to blame Sels primarily for not preventing the winning strike.
I am not writing off Jamaal Lascelles but any player who is giving away goals with mistakes like he has, is going to come under pressure if it continues, whether he is captain or not.
Personally, I think Chancel Mbemba is definitely a better defender than Lascelles and with Hanley’s profile, I have a feeling the Scottish international is also probably a better player.
Hopefully Lascelles can bounce back and he definitely has the confidence and character to be captain and earn a place in the team, it is just he has to sharpen up the actual playing side, or else Rafa Benitez is going to be faced with a very tricky dilemma so early in Jamaal Lascelles’ career as a Newcastle captain.
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