Newcastle captain Jamaal Lascelles gets the nod for this weeks young player watch after leading Newcastle’s early charge into the top four.
Lascelles should have extended United’s one goal lead after 25 minutes, but the strength and determination shown to rise above a far from diminutive Stoke defence should be admired. Stoke were adopting a zonal marking system from the corner, however instead of attacking the space, the young defender made a b-line for Bruno Martins Indi which seemed to take him by surprise.
The confidence required for a 23-year-old defender (especially one in the relative infancy of their Premier League career) to attack the game in the manner that he did on Saturday has become somewhat of a rarity. Not only did he seem in control of the match, he has done so while seemingly taking on the burden of being the club captain at a club like Newcastle in his stride.
Rafa Benitez must take some of the credit for this; players like Lascelles need to have their competitive edge managed carefully to avoid it manifesting in displays of either outright violence or impetuous and attention sapping complaining when things don’t go their way.
This is not to suggest for a moment that he would fall into either of those categories (in fact his actions later in the match disprove the latter), however the armband can help some players to channel their aggression in a constructive manner which is seemingly what it is doing for the young Englishman; he set an excellent example for the players around him and lead from the front when it mattered most on Saturday.
His aggressive ‘win at all costs’ mentality was undeniably the most impressive part of his performance against the Potters. One second he was having a frank exchange of views with the referee over the non-awarding of a penalty for Atsu, the next, he regained focused on attacking the corner. No more than seven seconds after his discussion with the referee had finished, the ball had flown off his head and into the back of the net via the bar.
Again, he attacked the static Stoke defence (seemingly making a second run at Martins Indi) and got to the ball first. It is no coincidence that he did so. He was angry but applied that emotion into the game in a constructive manner. This characteristic is a vital lesson for young players to learn, and is what great defenders like Puyol, Terry and Moore mastered during their careers. They would show emotion on the pitch but use it to their advantage.
There is no suggestion here that after a few good performances he is being bracketed with those legends of the game, however the point remains that learning to keep a level head when others are losing theirs will stand him in good stead for the future. Showing emotion on the pitch is only a weakness if the player allows it to be exploited; if it is used as a weapon then it can only ever harm the opposition.
Not only did he score the winning goal, he defended with maturity, attacked the ball so that Stoke were unable to play knockdowns through for their pacey wingers, cleaned up attempted through balls with ease and looked to turn defence into attack whenever he regained possession.
It was old school defending of the highest order; he was more than capable in his distribution but not to the detriment of his defensive duties. He played like a defender beyond his years, which will be reassuring to Newcastle fans concerned about their lack of experience within their young side. A good start to the season for the young Englishman who will be hoping he can continue to learn and improve. If he can do that, the future is looking bright for Lascelles.
Written by George Bates.