Captain. Leader. Legend. A Premier League defender once held that title, but after John Terry’s departure from Chelsea to Aston Villa, no one appears to have properly replaced him in claiming that honour.
But perhaps that title should go to Jamaal Lascelles.
His importance to Newcastle United really can’t go unnoticed, and it’s surely no coincidence that since his injury last month, the Magpies have failed to win in the Premier League, going on their worst run so far this season.
But good news is on the horizon for Rafa Benítez, it looks like his captain may be in line to return to action this weekend against Leicester City.
Speaking through the club’s official media channels on Tuesday, the defender said: “I trained for the first time this week and it gave me a good indication of how my foot is holding up.
“I will train again tomorrow, it will be more intense and I will see how I get on. It’s hard to watch especially when the team is not doing great.
“I feel responsible. I am trying hard to get back as soon as possible and fingers crossed it can be Saturday.
“You want to get back but hopefully after a good week of training I can be back in the team on Saturday.”
Poor form without Lascelles
In the six games Lascelles hasn’t been on the pitch at the final whistle, Newcastle haven’t registered a victory, losing five and daring one.
In the 948 minutes, he’s been involved in this season, the Magpies have conceded nine goals, one every 105 minutes.
Yet, in the 522 minutes they have played without their captain, Newcastle have conceded 16 goals, one every 32 minutes.
That includes the Carabao Cup tie against Nottingham Forest which Lascelles was rested for, if you take that away, it’s 13 goals conceded in 432 minutes, but that still works out at a similar rate – letting in a goal every 33 minutes.
That’s hardly ideal, and there’s clearly a massive difference between when the 24-year-old defender is playing and when he isn’t.
And that is why Benítez will be so desperate to get him back to shore up his back line.
The Spaniard hailed his captain when he was fit earlier in the season, even tipping him for a potential international call up.
In a challenge to Lascelles, he said back in September: “Is he ready for England? He is someone who has the potential.
“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.”
And Lascelles himself has come on under Benítez, who made him captain.
“I’ve learnt how to speak to players, how everyone is different, how they take criticism, those players that need a pat on the back,” he told the Telegraph.
“We’ve got a really good relationship. He’s a really good manager, but he’s a cool person to have around the place. His door is always open and he’s always making sure things are done the right way.
“The one thing he always stresses, that you take things step by step. If you work hard, things will come your way.
“He called me into his office the other day and said: ‘People are talking about you, you’re getting a lot of attention, but now it’s more important than ever to stay humble, to stay focused and to work even harder.’”
Why Newcastle will want Lascelles back against Leicester
Of course, the record with Lascelles in the team speaks for itself, so having their captain back for Saturday’s clash with Leicester is what everyone connected with the Magpies would want.
And he could be the perfect man to defeat the Foxes too.
So far this season, Leicester have conceded eight goals from set pieces, a problem which started under Craig Shakespeare, but has carried on under new boss Claude Puel.
Although Dwight Gayle has started to score in recent weeks, Benítez’s side has struggled for goals this season, with no player having found the back of the net in the league more than twice.
Gayle, Lascelles, Joselu and Ciaran Clark are all joint top scorers with two, and that shows you how they are struggling without a real goalscorer, with the Magpies getting just 14 goals in 15 games.
That isn’t the worst in the Premier League by any way, but scoring less than a goal a game will worry the Spaniard for sure.
And with Leicester shaky from set pieces, that will surely be Newcastle’s best chance of ending their poor run of form.
Lascelles’ two goals this season have come from corners, and if he is restored to the team and is fully fit, he will be a massive danger to Puel’s side.