With Manchester City facing the most important game of their season to date tomorrow—the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals against Real Madrid—Jamaal Lascelles could do nothing but praise the Citizens and label them a “tough” side in advance of Sunday’s match against the Pep Guardiola team.
Thanks to Manchester United's defeat of Brentford last night, the Magpies were able to go to sleep still sitting at the top half of the Premier League. They’ll do so for a few more days, although Brentford, Southampton, Aston Villa, and Crystal Palace will play their games on Saturday while all being at (at most) a three-point distance from Newcastle when it comes to that 10th place on the standings.
And the truth is, it won’t be easy for United to get anything at all from the weekend with Manchester City playing host at the Etihad and nothing else on their near horizon no matter whether they make or not the UCL Final on Wednesday.
That’s why Lascelles’ words make sense, and then some:
“We know our next two matches (City on Sunday, then Arsenal on MNF eight days after that) are the difficult ones.”
“We know Man City will be tough but at the same time, we are going there to win. We just keep pushing. In the final three games we will give our all.”
“We just want to finish as high as possible. We’ve done great to get where we are over the last couple of months. We will see what happens at the end of the season”.
No disrespect to Burnley (the last rival of the season for Newcastle), but Lascelles is absolutely right with his easy-to-make statements. Newcastle’s final position in the table—and hey, also/maybe who ends lifting the PL title—is something that will be mostly decided through the next two weeks of play.
Of course, Lascelles' words bear more weight than they would have had Fabian Schär not gotten injured last Saturday against Liverpool. With Schär banged up and leaving the pitch early, substituted precisely by Jamaal, there is a very serious chance he missed this weekend’s affair with City. Enter Lascelles, the next-in-line center back in the Magpies roster.
The arrival of Dan Burn last January cut Lascelles’ minutes short for good, and the latter lad has only started three of the six games he’s played since the start of February captaining the team in all of those three (and earlier-season) games.
As harsh as it is to say that the team only losses when Lascelles plays, that’s actually been the case of late for the most part: three of the four games in which he appeared from the start of March on ended in losses, and the lone win came against already-relegated Norwich. Of course, I said it’d be harsh to say that because those three losses happened against Chelsea, Tottenham, and most recently Liverpool last weekend.
Lascelles will start a high-stakes game for the first time since that Chelsea game back on Mar. 13th. Although he hasn’t been on the field that much, Lascelles is still an above-average center-back ranking inside the 90th percentile or better (per FBRef.com) in blocks, clearances, aerial duels won, and offensive touches in the opposition area this season.