The Lascelles Effect

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By Roddy Graham When Jamaal Lascelles joined our club back in 2014, he did what most professional footballers do when they move between teams. He declared how delighted he was to sign and said how much the transfer meant to him. Although a stipulation in his contract meant he wouldn't get to play for us immediately (he went back to Nottingham Forest on loan for the rest of the season - alongside fellow signing Karl Darlow), he was already looking forward to becoming a Newcastle player. His first words in his maiden club interview were, "As soon as I found out about the move I was over the moon. It's a huge step up for me. Newcastle are a club with a massive fanbase, a big history and an unbelievable stadium. First, I am going back to Forest for another season and that will be great for my development. Hopefully, I can come here next summer an even better player." When the time came for him to join the black and white ranks permanently, he found it difficult to get much game time. A change in manager, from the woeful Alan Pardew to the even more so Steve McClaren, plus a new favoured centre-back pairing of Chancel Mbemba and Fabricio Coloccini meant Lascelles had to wait until after the new year in 2016 for his chance. His first start was a 2-1 away loss at Watford, though he did manage to get on the scoresheet. He was then sent off in his next match against Everton. But that red card was the making of the player who now adorns the captain's armband. We were unbelievably poor in that game against Everton and Lascelles, who was brought on for Mbemba just before the break, gave away a mindless penalty. Most players in that squad would have shrugged their shoulders and trudged off without a care in the world. But not Jamaal. He was caught on camera screaming "No one gives a fuck" as he left the pitch. It was true. None of them showed any heart for the cause. None of them seemed bothered about the club being relegated again. Worse was to come for both the club and the future captain. Three straight defeats followed when Lascelles found his way back into the team against Chelsea, Stoke and Bournemouth. Those were enough to see Steve McClaren out the St James' Park revolving door. Relegation seemed certain. That was until a certain Spaniard arrived to turn the club upside down. Rafa Benitez knew he had a talented player in Lascelles the minute he joined the club, initially until the end of the season. "From watching from outside you can see a young centre-back who normally needs to improve and make mistakes, but the reaction when he makes mistakes when we are training, he is always listening to you and tries to understand. He is doing really well and he will be a really good centre-back for the future because he is doing really well now and he is learning." Lascelles started 7 out of the 10 games Rafa was appointed for at the end of the 2016-17 season. In those 7 games, we only lost one - the first one against eventual league champions Leicester. Although it wasn't ultimately enough to save us from relegation to the Championship, Rafa saw enough in Lascelles to realise he had a player he could develop - and a character he wanted to make a major part of his redevelopment of the club. In the summer friendlies before the Championship season, Rafa played Lascelles as his captain. Many assumed the armband would go to someone experienced like Jonjo Shelvey or Jack Colback. But not for the first time in his tenure, Rafa had something experimental and inspirational up his sleeve. On his appointment as club captain in the week before the opening game at Fulham, Lascelles said, "It is a lot of responsibility for a young player but I will always give my all because I want what is best for the team and the Club. It is such a proud moment for me and the biggest in my career so far. It is nice for someone to show that much trust in you, and I want to repay the manager's faith by leading this team back into the Premier League." He did exactly that. Playing 43 times in the Championship winning season and scoring three goals, including a vital equaliser away at Norwich, Lascelles excelled in his new role. He was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year for his excellent performances and grew in stature, not only as a player but as a leader during a tough old season in the second tier. The main, and only, aim of the season was promotion and, despite some rocky moments, Lascelles lead his Newcastle United side back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. This season started superbly for Lascelles too with his on-field talents being shown at their peak in the away game at Swansea in September. On a day when Rafa wasn't able to make the trip due to a hernia operation, Jamaal stepped up to the leadership mantle by putting in one of the best central defensive performances I've seen from a player in black and white. When Tammy Abraham had rounded Rob Elliot inside the box, a Swansea goal looked a certainty. However, Lascelles had other ideas. Making up 12 yards between himself and the goal line, he dashed towards the post and stuck out a leg to save an inevitable opener. Having saved his side at one end, he then popped up at the other to nod in what turned out to be the winner and a vital three away points. After the game, he made his way to the away end to applaud the 3,000 fans who made the long, late Sunday journey to south Wales. Thanks to Jamaal, it was trip well worth it. He followed that winner with another the following week at home to Stoke which, albeit briefly, took us to the dizzying heights of 4th place. Although that wouldn't last and most of the rest of our campaign so far has been pretty dire, Lascelles has been one shining light. Never one to let his head drop for too long. Never one to pass the buck. Never one to refuse an interview and let someone else take the responsibility. This is a far cry from the likes of former captain Coloccini who would go into hiding more often than Saddam Hussein. His influence on the team isn't just in his role as a captain though. The statistics* prove his value in the side as well. Despite an average-at-best season so far, Lascelles has a better points per game record than any player in the team (that is players who have started more than 5 games - sorry Henri Saivet, but your 3 points from 1 start isn't quite fair!). With Lascelles in the starting XI, we earn 1.20 points per game. This compares with a frankly appaling 0.42 points per game when summer recruit Florian Lejeune starts. It's no coincidence that when Lejeune isn't in the side we record 1.56 points per game - and just 0.17 points per game when Lascelles doesn't feature from the start. In terms of goals conceded, Lascelles' worth to our team is evident too. With Lascelles in the team, we concede on average 0.93 goals per game - and never more than 2. Without Lascelles in the team this season, the average goals conceded goes up to 3.0 - with 4 of those 5 games featuring us letting in more than 3 goals. It's really quite startling how important Lascelles is in terms of keeping things tight at the back given this is his first full season in the Premier League. The new year sees us hover just above the bottom three and with the very real possibility of a 3rd relegation in 9 horrible years under M**e A****y. Based on recent form only a good January transfer window will save us from the drop. However, one chink of light is our club captain - a leader both on and off the field. A genuinely talented centre-back who must be targeting an England call-up in the next couple of years. A player who makes us a lot better than we probably are. Jamaal Lascelles, keep up the good work! *a big thanks to @BigChrisHolt for the data mentioned in this blog. If you don't follow him on Twitter, please do. He's far and away the best for Newcastle stats on there!

Have you been impressed with Jamaal Lascelles so far this season? Is he the most important player in Newcastle's side? Should he be given a call-up to the England side? Share your thoughts and comments on this article below!