Why Jamaal Lascelles should make it to the England national team
There’s always a danger of overhyping young talents, but Jamaal Lascelles’ recent form has shown talk of a call-up with England might well be justified.
While to achieve a nod by Gareth Southgate will take more than the impressive six outings Lascelles has mustered, the defender has already shown the ability required to reach that level. Newcastle United’s recent spell of form has seen them rise up the table on the back of three straight wins before the defeat to Brighton And Hove Albion last weekend, and a key part of that impressive run has been Lascelles.
Under the tutelage of Rafael Benitez, the Derby-born defender has developed rapidly going from nervous and raw to an imposing young centre-back. Physical prowess has never been an issue for the 23-year-old, he’s strong, fast and extremely athletic. He’s rarely overpowered and can use his presence to incredible effect.
There were issues over his defensive intelligent though, but that’s an area of his game that has developed massively under the Spaniard. Lascelles plays the game in a more calm, well-judged manner now, showing his football IQ and ability to read the game.
He doesn’t have to charge into challenges or defensive actions, relying on just his physique to gain the upper hand. Now, after hours on the training field and learning in-action of course, Lascelles has the look of a more round individual. One that could very well go on to have a career at the top.
Lascelles is well aware what he must do to make it there too. He’s admitted as much that he can’t stand around and believe his own hype.
"I aim to be a much better player in 12 months’ time, that is something the manager has spoken to me about. Since he arrived, I’ve definitely improved as a player and a person, but also as a captain.”
Part of the process in improving could be an England call. To start with, Southgate knows Lascelles better than most having worked with the player at Under-21 level. There is also no real clear depth at centre-back for England, and indeed, there is a profile missing that Lascelles offers. One of a commanding, leading presence. Despite his tender age, the player has already worn the captain’s armband at Newcastle and carried it well.
There are few leaders in terms of England centre-backs right now, and a previously weak area of his game could help Lascelles in the future. Southgate picked six centre-backs for the most recent batch of international fixtures in his 26-man squad; Harry Maguire, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Michael Keane, Gary Cahill and John Stones. Only a few of those players look set in stone for Southgate, but make no mistake there are places up for grabs -- even if it is as a backup option.
Keane is having trouble settling in at Everton, while Smalling is badly out of favour at Manchester United. Maguire meanwhile is in a similar position to that of Lascelles, in terms of learning the ropes. It leaves really only Cahill, Jones and Stones as key players in that backline. There’s maybe only room for five centre-backs in the squad so two spots could be up for grabs, and even if there is just one Lascelles has as good a chance as anyone else of securing it.
Benitez has had his own say on the matter too, and while he’s looked to cool any over-exaggeration surrounding Lascelles form, there is an acknowledged the player is more than capable of becoming even better - much better.
“He has to work the way he is doing now and improve. How much he will improve I don’t know, but he has the potential and I am positive. He is a big lad and has a lot of the attributes. He can be successful in the Premier League but is still a young player. Sometimes if you are young, you lose your focus. I like to remind them it is the way to continue to impress.”
Maintaining his form with Newcastle will be vital, as will the form of his club in general. If they achieve beyond expectations this season then it will be likely that Lascelles plays a key role. While he remains only 23 with plenty of time on his side, there’s no reason why Lascelles can’t shoot for the stars with England now.