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How Jamaal Lascelles went from promising defender to Newcastle United captain

Jake Jackman

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Jamaal Lascelles

Jamaal Lascelles has had a great start to the season for Newcastle United, which has earned him a new and improved contract with the club. The deal will keep him at St James’ Park until June 2023.

It was important that the Magpies brought his salary into line with his contributions to the club as captain, as he was still on the same contract that he signed in 2014 as a 20-year-old. Since then, he has become a first-team regular and earned himself the armband as a result of his leadership qualities.

The board will have noticed the praise that their skipper had been receiving across the national media and this new contract sends a clear message that Lascelles is their man for the future. The sceptics will suggest that Newcastle are merely safeguarding the value of an asset.

Although there may be some truth to that, Rafa Benitez is a huge fan of the centre-back and will want his captain to be a key figure in the next chapter at St James’ Park. His comments reported by the official club website suggest as much:

“As soon as I made the decision to make Jamaal the captain of Newcastle United, he rose to the challenge and he has developed as a player and a character. He has proven himself to be a very good leader and a good role model too.

“He has also improved as a player, responding well to our advice and guidance and getting better with every game. I would like to congratulate him on his new contract with the club, it is very well deserved.”

The relationship between the manager and captain is an important one at any club. Newcastle have one that works well with Benitez and Lascelles. The defender alluded to it upon reacting to his new contract with the club:

“I’m over the moon. Since I came to Newcastle, I’ve been happy; I love the city, the football and the fans. Everything about it, I enjoy so I’m happy to be tied down for the next six years here. We’ve got a group of ambitious lads, the fans are excellent and the manager has got trust in me, so I’m really happy here and I want to take the club as high as it can go.”

Benitez noticed the leadership qualities in Lascelles at an early stage and promoted him to club captain, despite his perceived lack of experience. His comments above reflect how much he loves playing for Newcastle and the importance of having the manager’s trust.

It has been a key reason why he improves every game and he realises the Spaniard’s influence on his career. If he wants to continue progressing and become the best player he can be, St James’ Park is the best place for him.

His journey to becoming a Premier League captain

Lascelles was developed by Nottingham Forest and was a graduate from their successful academy, making his first-team debut at the beginning of 2012. His talent was always well-documented and reports of interest from bigger teams was a constant of his early career. Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal were both linked with the centre-back during his time at Nottingham Forest.

His breakthrough season came during the 2013-14 campaign, as he made 29 appearances in the Championship. Despite the flaws to his game, it was obvious that Lascelles had huge potential and the interest from bigger clubs continued in the background.

QPR were in the hunt for his signature during the following summer, but Newcastle managed to secure the defender’s services, in a deal that also saw Karl Darlow move to Tyneside. Both players returned to Nottingham Forest on loan for the 2014-15 season.

The reported fee was £7 million and Stuart Pearce, the manager of Forest at the time, was annoyed at the deal, as he felt the pair’s value would increase significantly in the future.

“We had an offer from Newcastle, that I was made aware of last week, in regards to the two players going there. The figures that were mentioned, by the representative of our club – I said I would not do that deal, when I was asked the question. I thought I could push their value up and that they would be worth more in the long run.”

Looking back at the deal, it has transpired to be a great piece of business by Newcastle and Forest will be regretting their decision to sell for such a low figure. It didn’t exactly go swimmingly for Lascelles after the deal was signed, as he appeared in court over an alleged assault during his loan spell at the City Ground.

Then when he finally got to St James’ Park, he struggled to break into the team and played a supporting role as the club fell to relegation. No player wants to suffer a relegation, but in hindsight, Lascelles benefitted hugely from it.

A 3-1 defeat to Southampton may look like a poor afternoon, but it was the making of Lascelles in the eyes of Rafa Benitez. His young defender was heavily critical of the squad and suggested the players needed to show more heart on the pitch.

“On paper our team is ridiculous but we need to show more heart. We need players who care and will look after each other, we’ve lacked it. We’ve got flair players, tricky players, players with loads of talent but we need more heart, desire and bigger characters on the pitch. No matter how good you are, if you don’t have that fight and hunger it doesn’t matter.”

At the time, Newcastle fans were demanding a team that tried and the comments from Lascelles, although shocking, were exactly what they wanted to hear from one of their players.

He proved that these weren’t just words and that he would practice what he preached the following weekend, as he scored to help the side to a 3-0 win at home to Swansea City. Relegation following weeks later, but the centre-back left a lasting impression on his manager and was awarded the captaincy for the following campaign.

“At the end of last season he really developed as a character and a man. I am pleased that Jamaal will be our captain, but I have also said to other players that they must too show their character, strength and leadership qualities to support the team.”

Benitez said the above upon appointing Lascelles as the club captain and although it isn’t openly stated, his comments suggest that the Southampton affair played a big part in his decision. The year in the Championship wasn’t easy, but Newcastle triumphed and returned to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

He had his critics during the season, especially after the turn of the year, but it was since reported that the 23-year-old was playing with a double-hernia problem for a number of months. He was determined to help his side achieve promotion and didn’t complain about his injury problems once.

That is the mark of a true leader. Those that have followed his career won’t be surprised that he is now performing well as a Premier League captain. He will be the first to admit that his career hasn’t been perfect, but he learns from his mistakes and challenges himself to be a better person and footballer.

Lascelles will be a player worth following for the rest of the season and with some already putting him forward for an England call-up, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he was included in the squad for the World Cup next summer.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Newcastle United

Mohamed Diame becoming a fan favourite in Newcastle United’s Premier League turn around

Mohamed Diame has changed his fortunes at Newcastle United in recent weeks becoming a key player in the Magpies Premier League survival bid, writes Jake Jackman.

Jake Jackman

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Diame
Photo: Reuters

It has gone under the radar and received little publicity in the national press, but the turnaround of Mohamed Diame’s season has been sensational to watch.

The Senegalese international has been a regular for Newcastle United since their return to the Premier League and is often picked ahead of Mikel Merino and Jonjo Shelvey, both of whom are well liked by supporters.

That cannot be said of Diame, at least until very recently.

During the team’s nine-match losing run towards the end of 2017, the midfielder was a regular starter and was a main target for the fans’ anger.

Against Everton, he was booed off the pitch after being substituted and at that time, it became difficult to see a future for him in the team.

He was offering little and his languid running style made him appear lazy.

This was a player that had once been very good in the top-flight, but two seasons in the second tier had taken its toll.

The judgement was that he was no longer good enough to compete in the Premier League.

Despite arriving as an established Premier League player, Diame had struggled to make a good impression on the Newcastle supporters during his first season with the club.

It had been anticipated that he would stand out as one of the best players in the Championship and dominate matches from midfield.

However, he was in and out of the team, ultimately failing to become a regular fixture in the starting eleven.

The year prior to joining Newcastle, he had helped Hull City to promotion and his experience was a key reason why he was targeted by Rafa Benitez.

During the 2015/16 season, he contributed ten goals and four assists as the Tigers went straight back up to the top-flight.

It was a goal from range in the play-off final from the midfielder that clinched promotion and it was regarded a coup that the Magpies managed to sign him the following summer.

Diame clearly thought the long-term future at St James’ Park was brighter than the one on Humberside and nearly two years’ on, that has been confirmed.

Newcastle are now back in the Premier League, while Hull are fighting against relegation in the Championship.

Although he had to give up on a year of Premier League football, the Senegalese international is now benefiting from the decision.

It was thought that Diame would provide drive to the midfield and be able to contribute goals and assists.

During the Championship-winning season, the midfielder got only three goals and three assists.

He was predominantly played as a number ten with attacking license, so his poor return in the final third was somewhat a surprise, especially coming off the back of a great campaign in the same division.

There were some calls from supporters to sell the midfielder during the summer and if Benitez had been given a larger budget to spend, it may have led to the departure of Diame.

Due to his lack of impact in the Championship, there were doubts as to whether he could offer much at all in the Premier League.

Although his contributions on the ball weren’t great, the 30-year-old is a hard-working player and that goes a long way with his manager.

The Magpies’ boss knew that the former Hull City player was someone that he could rely on and that was a reason why he was kept for the current campaign.

Since the beginning of this season, Diame has featured prominently, but it was not until recently that he was a regular in the first eleven.

He has played 20 times for Newcastle in the Premier League and 12 of those appearances have come as a starter.

The midfielder made his first league start of the season against Burnley in October and this marked the start of an atrocious run for the Magpies.

They went on to take only one point from a possible 27 and Diame played in six of those matches, including starting against Watford and Everton.

These were regarded as two of the worst performance of the season and the 30-year-old was scapegoated as a result of coming into the team at the wrong time.

He will be the first to admit that he wasn’t at his best, but he wasn’t the only player at fault.

When he was substituted in the match against Everton, he was booed off by his own supporters and it became difficult to see a way back for him at St James’ Park.

However, his manager never lost faith in him and he was given the start against West Ham United days before Christmas.

Newcastle desperately needed a win, but few supporters expected one.

Diame was excellent at the London Stadium as he completed five ball recoveries and scored the second Magpies’ goal with a lovely finish.

That performance kickstarted the midfielder’s season and he has started seven of the eight Premier League matches since.

He has become one of the first names on Benitez’s team-sheet and few would have expected that after the Everton game.

During this spell, he has scored twice and consistently performed to a high level.

In the most recent match against Manchester United, Diame dominated the midfield area alongside Jonjo Shelvey.

The former made six ball recoveries, while his midfield partner made the same number.

However, the 30-year-old was as effective on the ball as he was off it, as shown by his three key passes during the match.

That was more than any other player on the pitch.

The resurgence of Diame at Newcastle has been mind-blowing and one of the key reasons for the turnaround has been Benitez moving him back into central midfield.

For the first 12-months of his Magpies’ career, he was played in a number ten role and the game often passed him by.

Now, he is in the thick of the action and thriving with the increased responsibility.

If he is able to continue his good form and help Newcastle retain their Premier League status, he will become a favourite on the terraces.

That seemed impossible two months ago.

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English Premier League

Newcastle United 1-0 Manchester United: Three talking points from St James’ Park

Jake Jackman

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Newcastle

Newcastle United delivered one of their best performances of the season as they overcame Manchester United in a hard-fought victory. Due to Huddersfield Town’s win earlier in the day, the Magpies started the match in the relegation zone and only three points would see them climb out of the bottom three. That is exactly what they got as they ran themselves into the ground to beat a more talented top-six team. This was the club’s first win at St James’ Park since October and it came at a crucial time. Here are three talking points from the game:

Martin Dubravka shone on his debut

Although Newcastle didn’t do a great deal of business during the January transfer window, they did make three loan signings and one of them was the star of the show on Sunday. Martin Dubravka came in for his Magpies’ debut as he replaced Karl Darlow in goal and it would have been easy to be daunted by the occasion, but the Slovakian international took it in his stride. He was near faultless, as he made a number of crucial saves and marshalled his box effectively.

Benitez has wanted a new goalkeeper since he took over at the club, but last summer’s signing Matz Sels didn’t adjust to English football and that left the manager with the problem that he inherited. Karl Darlow and Rob Elliot have shared the duties of being number one, but neither have stood out as being Premier League quality.

The addition of Dubravka supplied instant benefits, as he was quick to claim crosses and had an excellent control of his area. In the first-half, he made a crucial stop to deny Anthony Martial. With just minutes left, he made an incredible reaction save to make sure Newcastle kept hold of the clean sheet. It was a debut to remember and on this evidence, the Slovakian will be the number one at St James’ Park for the rest of the campaign.

Manchester United lacked options to change the game

There were some strange decisions made by Jose Mourinho as he tried to change the game in his side’s favour in the second half. He brought on Michael Carrick and Juan Mata for Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard. This change arguably made them more predictable in attack, as the two players coming on had less pace and dynamism. The third change saw youngster Scott McTominay come on for Nemanja Matic. It was a tough ask for the inexperienced midfielder to get Manchester United back in to the game.

Although the changes arguably made the team worse, there were few options available to Mourinho, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford were all missing from the squad. Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw were on the bench, but neither are attacking players and that is what Manchester United needed.

Paul Pogba looked jaded and lacking fitness for the entire ninety minutes, but he was forced to start due to the lack of other options on Sunday. It is no excuse, but the inability to change the game did leave Mourinho short, especially after falling behind.

Newcastle won the midfield battle

As alluded to above, Paul Poba didn’t look fully fit and Newcastle United took full advantage of that as they won the midfield battle. Mohamed Diame was a figure of frustration for the first-half of the season, but he has improved significantly in recent weeks. He and Jonjo Shelvey were both superb, as they fought hard and distributed the ball well when they had the opportunity to. Between them, they made 13 ball recoveries and five key passes. They fully committed to the cause and played a vital role in the team’s victory.

The renaissance of Diame has been incredible to watch as he is now performing to the level that Rafa Benitez would have expected when he was signed last summer. However, the improvement of Shelvey could prove to be even more important in the long run. The midfielder has been difficult to manage at times due to his ability to lose his head on the pitch. On Sunday, he was a professional and remained focused, which was a mental victory for him.

The Magpies manager and the supporters will be hoping he can continue to perform to this level. If he can, the former Swansea City midfielder can be the player that everybody knows he can become.

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Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace 1-1 Newcastle United: Three talking points from Selhurst Park

Jake Jackman

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Newcastle

Crystal Palace and Newcastle United played out a draw at Selhurst Park, but that didn’t do much to ease the relegation fears of both clubs. The home side have now lost only two of their last 15 Premier League matches, which underlines their improvement under Roy Hodgson. Meanwhile, Rafa Benitez will be encouraged by his side’s recent form, as they have lost just two of their last eight matches in the league, both of which came against Manchester City. Although neither set of supporters will be delighted by the result, the match showed that both sides are difficult to beat and that is a positive. Here are three talking points from the match:

Wilfried Zaha has found the consistency to match his talent

The winger has been fantastic to watch this season and there are few better in the Premier League at running with the ball. At times, it looks impossible to dispossess him as he weaves past six or seven challenges to create a chance for his team. Zaha completed three dribbles and made three key passes, which made him one of the most effective players in the final third on Sunday. He came close to scoring at one point, but his effort curled over the bar.

It was evident that Zaha was the player that the Newcastle defence feared and he consistently caused them problems down Palace’s right-hand side. Hodgson has got the best out of him in the final third, but his defensive work rate has been equally as impressive. He completed one tackle and one interception during the match. At the beginning of the second half, he burst a lung getting back to prevent a promising opening for Newcastle by intercepting a ball into Ayoze Perez. Under past managers, the 25-year-old wouldn’t have done that. The appointment of Hodgson may be looked back on as an important moment in the development of the Ivory Coast international.

Kenedy looks to be a great signing for Newcastle

This Newcastle United team has a lot of work rate and the players fight for the shirt, but they have looked short on quality up to this point. Rafa Benitez was vocal during the summer as he continually stated he needed more players, but he never once criticised those already at the club. It was important in January that they added some quality and Kenedy looks to be a great addition. He played his part in the first goal with another dangerous corner delivery.

Every time that he gets the ball, he looks dangerous and during his time on the pitch, he completed two dribbles and finished the game with an 86% pass success rate. That shows his quality and he is a player that Newcastle can look to for inspiration. His end product needs work, as he missed a good chance in the first half and dallied on the ball just after the break when he should have played in Ayoze Perez for a one-on-one chance. If he can continue to impress and improve in the final third, he could play a vital part in keeping the club in the top-flight.

The relegation fight will go down to the wire

It is becoming a common theme that matches such as these are becoming must not lose, rather than must win. Both managers appeared relatively pleased with a point after the match, but either side could have won it. Newcastle were excellent for the first half, but they chose to move to a more defensive style after the break. If they continued to commit bodies forward and pressed Palace high up the pitch when the score was 1-0, they would have had a great chance to increase their lead.

However, Palace’s recent run of form shows they are difficult to beat and that showed on Sunday. That said, they could have been more positive once they had the equaliser. They had new signing Alexander Sørloth on the bench, but they didn’t bring him on. He would have added another physical presence in the final third and could have caused chaos next to Christian Benteke. There are only seven points separating the bottom ten clubs and it is shaping up to be the most exciting relegation battles in recent seasons. Both of these teams will be hoping to climb clear over the coming weeks, but this point did little to stabilise their position.

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