Jamaal Lascelles is a pivotal figure at Newcastle United.
He was the young player who stood up in the dressing room and told the Newcastle squad they were letting everybody down, back in 2016.
The team were fighting relegation and the then 22 year old pointed the finger at senior players who he and the supporters believed were coasting through the season, not fully giving it everything as disaster beckoned.
Rafa Benitez replaced Steve McClaren shortly after that dressing room confrontation, Mike Ashley leaving it far too late though to make the change and Newcastle were relegated, despite an upturn in results as Newcastle ended the season with three wins and three draws in the very final six matches.
Jamaal Lascelles had only made three Premier League starts previously but from the Spaniard’s arrival, Lascelles has been an almost permanent fixture in the team ever since under Rafa.
The manager even promoting the defender to be captain despite is relative youth.
Very good as a player and captain in the promotion season, that moved up a significant level to excellent last season, as Lascelles led Newcastle to 10th under Rafa Benitez. The stats were extraordinary, when the captain played, Newcastle United conceded far less goals and got better results overall.
After so long without any such pressures, Newcastle suddenly had a player once again who Mike Ashley could potentially sell because a deal would be ‘too good to turn down’, the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham, Everton and Man Utd all linked with moves last summer.
With his form for Newcastle, there was even widespread surprise amongst NUFC fans and neutrals, when Jamaal Lascelles didn’t get a single England call up, never mind go to Russia for the World Cup.
Such is the fickle nature of things, this season has seen a bit of a levelling off with some Newcastle fans going a little bit over the top the other way. Suddenly for some, Lascelles has gone from indispensable to…dispensable.
The odd injury problem, average form when playing, Federico Fernandez coming in and doing well, with Florian Lejeune also on his way back, whilst Fabian Schar has also suggested he could be very decent.
Things came to a head at the weekend for some. Jamaal Lascelles had one of his poorest games for Newcastle as they lost 2-1 to Wolves.
Of course that is only a very small minority of supporters suddenly deciding the captain is no longer an important figure at the club, on and off the pitch, the overwhelming majority knowing full well that he has a vital part to play this season and moving forward.
However, I do think that we can now look at Jamaal Lascelles with the benefit of almost three years of watching him now, and make some valid judgements.
As stated above, he is still a key player for Newcastle, that hasn’t changed.
However, it was no coincidence that on Sunday he had a really poor game, as he was playing on the right side of a three centre-back system.
Back in August it was widely reported that there had been an argument at the training ground with Jamaal Lascelles not happy being asked to play in that position wit Federico Fernandez as the middle one of the three defenders. Lascelles was dropped from the squad with instead Fabian Schar playing on the right side of a three man defence in the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea.
On Sunday we saw why the former Forest defender doesn’t want to play there, in that role he repeatedly was given the ball and asked to try and work it forward into players in the more attacking positions. Whilst he has improved to an extent on the ball, it isn’t his strength, in fact in reality it is still a massive weakness compared to other aspects of his play. All of the other centre-backs are more comfortable on the ball – Fernandez, Schar, Clark and Lejeune.
This is where we get to the crux of things.
Jamaal Lascelles is a very good defender and one of Newcastle’s best players, no question.
However, we can see clearly now that he has limitations.
When talk comes around of the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham and whoever being interested, we can sleep easy. At that level and what they need in central defenders, no way will the best Premier League clubs be interested.
Match after match they dominate possession and so they need central defenders who are comfortable on the ball, the better the team the less you need them doing defending, which is obviously Lascelles’ biggest asset.
I think it also explains the England blank. Gareth Southgate has made clear he wants defenders comfortable on the ball and once again, that isn’t Jamaal Lascelles.
That doesn’t mean nobody would be interested, but I don’t think it would be any of the very top teams, instead you could see maybe Everton, or possibly a club like Leicester if they lost Harry Maguire, potentially making a (relatively) big money offer for the Newcastle captain.
I can’t see Rafa Benitez persisting with the three/five at the back. Well certainly not at home anyway, which is where the problem is for me. Away from home, Lascelles as one of three centre-backs – even on the right of a three, isn’t a problem, as Newcastle will be defending the majority of the time, which is what he is good at. At home though, where Newcastle will get more possession, it would be an ongoing problem.
So in summary, I kind of see it as a win-win situation.
So long as Rafa Benitez is given backing to improve the Newcastle team, I think Jamaal Lascelles will be more than happy to stay. The clubs that could have turned his head aren’t interested because his strengths are not what they need and his weakness is definitely something that would put them off.
Jamaal Lascelles suits Newcastle United and the club suit him, at least it does so long as Rafa Benitez remains…