Rafa Benitez’s arrival at Newcastle United has seen a changing of the guard in defence, installing Jamaal Lascelles, a former fringe player, into the heart of the back four for six of the last seven league matches. It is clear to any United fan who has watched recent performances that Lascelles, regardless of Newcastle’s position next season, will be a key part of Newcastle United’s future.
A throwback to the old-fashioned, no-nonsense defending of years gone by, the duo of Lascelles and Mbemba have performed excellently in recent weeks, keeping clean sheets at home to Swansea City and Crystal Palace, and conceding just one, albeit offside, goal to free-scoring Manchester City. This has been no coincidence as the team have been drilled by Benitez and his staff to become more compact, being able to soak up pressure and remain in the game instead of succumbing to damaging early goals.
Lascelles in particular has benefited enormously from this, and his consistent game time has seen him go from strength to strength. Experienced centre-back duo Steven Taylor and Captain Fabricio Coloccini have been ousted from the starting XI after years of being the first names on the teamsheet, partly through injury but also through the merit of Lascelles, who was signed for a mere £3.5mn from Nottingham Forest in the summer of 2014.
After countless matches of Taylor’s incessant backing off, allowing strikers a shot on goal, Coloccini’s inconsistency and until recently, Mike Williamson’s lacklustre efforts at being a central defender, Lascelles comes as a breath of fresh air.
It is not just his defensive capabilities which are impressive; he is just as potent in the opposition box as he is defending his own. Two goals to his name so far in his Newcastle career against Watford and Swansea City are the hallmark of things to come. His stature and aerial prowess is likened to that of Manchester City stalwart Vincent Kompany, however he may have some way to go before reaching the heights of the Belgian’s success.
Not afraid to put his body on the line, Lascelles’ bravery and desire to keep Newcastle in the Premier League is nothing short of admirable, and something which the fans have been clamouring for from captain Coloccini for many years.
An excellently timed tackle on Connor Wickham during last weekend’s victory over Crystal Palace epitomised his recent performances in a black and white shirt. The Palace frontman was through on goal, only to be stopped in his tracks by Lascelles’ brilliant tackle, seizing the ball before playing away in a calm fashion. This proves that he is not simply a ‘kick and rush’, route one footballer, but he has class and is comfortable with the ball at his feet, able to play away from goal instead of pumping the ball upfield and losing possession.
Lascelles is undoubtedly the future of Newcastle United: a talented Englishman who understands the club, which helps him perform to the best of his ability on the pitch. Many have touted him as a future captain of the club, which may seemed far-fetched currently as he is only 22 years old, yet having been a voice in the dressing room of late, a potential captaincy role could be in the offing if he remains at the club for years to come.
Having taken on media responsibilities in recent weeks, Lascelles has gained plenty of plaudits from the United supporters as his straight-talking attitude towards survival emanates with the fans. A never-say-die attitude to the 90 minutes on the pitch, he is a key player for United in their remaining two fixtures, and will be pivotal in their survival bid.
If Newcastle United are relegated, Lascelles will be equally pivotal in their attempts to return to the Premier League, however if they do survive, he will certainly be a key part of Newcastle United’s future.