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Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey stake World Cup claim after emphatic Newcastle display

The duo were excellent in the Magpies’ victory over Southampton.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Newcastle United were the big winners on Saturday as they beat relegation rivals Southampton at home with relative comfort. The rest of the results also went their way and they climbed to 13th with eight matches to play.

Rafa Benitez spoke about 40 points being enough to stay up and his team are now only eight points away from that landmark. Their job isn’t done yet, but they took a huge step towards survival on Saturday.

The focus will be on Mauricio Pellegrino after the game, as Southampton slipped to another poor result. The Saints have won only once in their last 17 Premier League matches.

That is an awful record and one that makes them a frontrunner to suffer relegation this season. However, as average as the visitors were, Newcastle did well to put them under pressure and punish the mistakes that they made.

To a man, Newcastle were excellent and it was a team performance that symbolised what Rafa Benitez’s managerial approach is. They controlled the game and created the better chances, without dominating possession. Two players that stood out were Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey.

(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

The two Englishmen have emerged as key players under Benitez and they stepped up with great performances in a huge game. They both offer leadership to the team and that is important as Newcastle have a young squad with many players being inexperienced at the highest level. That has cost the team this season as they have failed to manage matches to a positive conclusion.

Lascelles has become known as one of the best young English defenders and his performance today enhanced his World Cup claims. There has been talk that the Newcastle captain is an outside bet to make the squad that travels to Russia, but there remain a number of centre-backs ahead of him in the pecking order.

Although he has been discussed as an option, the 24-year-old is focused on keeping Newcastle in the Premier League and Saturday’s performance reflected that. He was dominant in the air as he won nine aerial duels. Lascelles’ positioning was flawless, as he completed two ball recoveries and made 12 clearances.

The Magpies have been good defensively this season as would be expected from a team managed by Benitez. They have conceded the joint-fewest of any team in the bottom half and Lascelles has been a major reason for that. Their record without him in the team shows his importance and he played a crucial role in the clean sheet against Southampton.

It would be ambitious to suggest that Lascelles is now a serious contender to be picked for the World Cup. He hasn’t been capped by the senior squad and Southgate is likely to keep faith in those with experience at international level. However, the Newcastle captain will have a rapport with the national manager after being coached by him at Under-21 level.

Also, he is a natural leader and England don’t have many of those. If he can continue to perform for Newcastle and help the club to Premier League safety, he will move into contention and an injury or two could see him make the squad. Regardless of whether he makes the squad this summer or not, Lascelles has a future at international level. It becomes more evident with every passing week.

In his role as captain, Lascelles is very important for Newcastle, but Jonjo Shelvey has an equally crucial role to play. The midfielder passed a late fitness test to start against Southampton and delivered a display of the highest quality to earn the three points. Without the 26-year-old, the Magpies lack creativity and dynamism which makes them predictable to play against.

It didn’t take long for Shelvey to make an impact on the game, as he delivered an excellent ball over the top of the defence to release Kenedy. The Brazilian still had a lot to do, as he controlled the ball and guided it past Alex McCarthy, but the delivery into him gave him the opportunity to score.

Benitez would have made it clear that his team needed to start well and heap the pressure onto Southampton. That move within the first two minutes set the tone for the game and it was the positive thinking from the midfielder that was responsible for it.

His pass success rate of 46% suggests his distribution wasn’t great, but that stat doesn’t tell the whole story. Shelvey was playing risky forward passes at every opportunity and although lots didn’t come off, they put Southampton on the back foot and caused problems for the defenders. They didn’t enjoy going back towards their own box to defend and Newcastle were often first to the loose balls.

In the second-half, Shelvey got his second assist of the game and it showed great decision making from the midfielder. He was in acres of space on the edge of the area and took his time to make the right decision. The 26-year-old eventually squared it to Matt Ritchie who struck it into the bottom corner. A lot of midfielders would have shot themselves, but the Newcastle number eight saw his team-mate in a better position and unselfishly passed to him.

Under Benitez, Shelvey has become a lot better at defending and contributing to the overall effort of the team. He completed four ball recoveries on Saturday and showed aggression in his closing down. There has never been any doubting his creativity, but the added work rate has made him a lot more effective in the middle of the park.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Shelvey remains a complicated character and he has been sent off twice this season, which shows the problems that he can cause his own team. However, he has become more consistent and he is now impacting games more regularly.

He isn’t afraid to play risky passes and has a lot of ability to pull them off. England don’t have a lot of great central midfield options and although it would be a huge call to take him to Russia, the Newcastle midfielder could have something to offer.

Neither player is likely to make the squad, but Gareth Southgate should make a visit to the North East and watch both of them. They each have unique qualities that few other players in the country have. Lascelles is a born leader, while Shelvey has an excellent passing range and offers creativity from deep.

Both are hitting form at the right time and could be good outside bets to gate-crash the squad.

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.

England National Team

“No surprise”: Twitter reacts to rumours of Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey’s England return

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Photo: Getty Images.

When news broke that Newcastle United midfielder Jonjo Shelvey could be in line for an England recall, fans around the country reacted in a variety of ways, both of joy and dread, that the former Liverpool man could be on the plane to Russia.

The Times say that his form, combined with fitness concerns over Jack Wilshere and Adam Lallana, have put him in the frame, and England boss Gareth Southgate is set watch as his Magpies team face Everton on Monday.

The 26-year-old has been key to Rafa Benitez’s side this season as they have re-established themselves back in the top flight of English football.

(Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Shelvey has already got six England caps to his name, the most recent coming in November 2015 against France, and he could now earn a return two and a half years later.

His sparkling form has caught the eye as all three goals he has been involved with this season (one goal and two assists) have come in his last four appearances.

Here’s how Twitter reacted to the news…

Many believed it was about time…

Plenty made comparisons to the alternatives, with two in particular coming up a few times…

He’s made some eat their words…

Yet not all agreed…

After three years in the international wilderness, Jonjo Shelvey will need to maintain his current form if he is to enter into the fight to earn himself a ticket on the plane to Russia as a surprise inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s squad to face Belgium, Panama and Tunisia in World Cup Group G.

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Newcastle United

Fernando Torres should reunite with Rafa Benitez at Newcastle next season

A romantic return to the Premier League could suit both parties.

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Fernando Torres
Photo: Getty Images

Atletico Madrid striker Fernando Torres announced he would be leaving his boyhood club this summer, and also ruled out a domestic move to another La Liga club.

The experienced Spanish international would be a prudent signing for Newcastle United, where Torres could reunite with Rafa Benitez and serve as a wise mentor to the Magpie’s attackers.

Torres has enjoyed a quietly productive season in Madrid, bagging eight goals in a primarily substitute role. And just this weekend against Levante, the striker rolled back the years with a trademark volleyed goal into the top corner.

Although the Spaniard is 34 years of age, he could nonetheless contribute in meaningful ways for the Magpies. Newcastle lack experience up top and Torres would be a brilliant teacher for the talents of Dwight Gayle and Ayoze Perez.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

In addition, Newcastle simply need depth in attacking positions, with just Perez, Gayle, and Islam Slimani comprising their strike-force. This lack of forward options is due in a large part to the reluctance of Mike Ashley to spend money on transfers, an issue that has annoyed Benitez in the past.

Before Newcastle’s impressive 2-1 win over Arsenal at St. James’ Park this weekend, Benitez again called on Ashley to invest in the squad over the summer.

With the Magpies securing their Premier League status in superb fashion against the Gunners, confidence and optimism is flowing in the Northeast. It seems if there was ever a time for Newcastle’s notoriously stingy owner to splash the cash, it would be this offseason.

Fernando Torres should be top of Rafa Benitez’s wish list, and with the two Spaniards famously enjoying a warm relationship during their time at Liverpool, Torres would take little convincing to make the switch to Newcastle.

ust like his ex-manager, Torres would do well to leave Madrid and take on a project of his own at St. James’ Park this summer.

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Newcastle United

Newcastle United’s Florian Lejeune showing Rafa Benitez was right to take £8.7million risk

The Frenchman has been in fine form for the Magpies since his return from injury.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Newcastle United have been superb in recent weeks and have climbed to safety after breaking through the 40-point mark.

Their gradual improvement over the course of the season has been great to watch and underlines the quality of their manager, Rafa Benitez.

His squad has often been spoken about as a ‘Championship squad’, but that seems harsh given their position in the Premier League table.

During the summer, Benitez was disappointed by the lack of backing that he received in the transfer window, but the additions that he did make have provided the squad with more quality.

Florian Lejeune signed from Eibar, for £8.7 million, before the season kicked off and there has been a sharp improvement in his performances recently.

The Frenchman missed a couple of months after picking up an injury towards the end of 2017.

He returned to the team against Manchester United in a game that could be considered a turning point of their season.

They started the match in the relegation zone and the three points made the supporters believe that they could climb the league table.

Since that game, the Magpies have taken 13 points from a possible 18 available and managed to move away from danger into a promising position.

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

The reason for their upturn in fortune hasn’t been solely down to Lejeune, but he has more than played his part.

Benitez has established a solid spine and that has been vital in the recent winning form.

Martin Dubravka, Jamaal Lascelles, Lejeune, Jonjo Shelvey, Mohamed Diame and Ayoze Perez have been regular starters down the middle of the pitch.

This group of players give Benitez a good base from which to build on over the coming season.

Defensively, Lejeune has done very well in recent weeks and been a major reason why they have only conceded two goals in their last four matches.

He averages 6.97 clearances, 0.93 tackles and 1.96 interceptions per ninety minutes, while his physicality has allowed him to adapt to the English game.

The Frenchman has won an impressive 60.78% of his aerial duals.

In addition to being an assured defender, Lejeune has managed to impress with his ball-playing ability and that has added another dimension to the Newcastle team.

He has completed 78% of his passes and showed on numerous that he can play threatening long balls over an opposition defence.

The best example of this was his assist for Ayoze Perez last weekend against Leicester.

(during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St. James Park on April 15, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

It was a perfectly weighted through ball to find the Spaniard and led to the team earning another three points.

Benitez may not have been given the amount of money that he believes is needed to turn Newcastle into the force they can become, but the signing of Lejeune is looking like a successful one.

There were doubts during his first few months in the country, but he has developed into a very good Premier League centre-back and his partnership with Lascelles continues to improve.

The coming summer is going to be huge for the future for the football club and the board must bend over backwards to keep their manager happy.

The success of Lejeune should encourage them to release the funds as Benitez has proven value can be found in the modern market.

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