Newcastle skipper Jamaal Lascelles knows what it will take to achieve Premier League safety this season, but he is looking beyond that and wants to avoid copy the mistakes of last season’s run-in.
Having lost their opening five home fixtures of the season – their first St James’ Park win coming against Watford in November — the Toon skipper says his side have their confidence back ahead of home games, and that is vital ahead of the last weeks of the season.
Lascelles admits that last season the team may have, unwittingly, taken their “feet off the gas” when they were mathematically safe, and is determined not to repeat it this year, and insists that there will still be “a lot to play for” and is looking at the home games as the key to maintaining their form.
Speaking to the Shields Gazette, Lascelles said: “I think last year we made a bit of a mistake when we were safe and took our feet off the gas a little bit – we lost four out of our five last games..
“We need to make sure we’re safe. There’s still a lot to play for, and we’ll try and finish as high as we can. Them and Liverpool are probably two of the biggest teams we’ve got left to play, and we’ve crossed that off.
“Look at the other games. Our home games are important.”
Certainly the change in fortunes at home is contrasted by a paradoxical change away from Tyneside.
Having lost only two of their eight away games before their harsh 4-0 reverse at Liverpool on Boxing Day, they have not won any in 2019.
When asked about the contrasting fortunes, Lascelles said he is “not too sure” why they struggle so much on their travels now, but claims “it’s just football”.
“I’m not too sure. Probably the opposition. It’s just football. I don’t really know what it is. I think, over the years, we’ve done pretty well away from home, especially in the Championship season. It’s just football for you.”
Certainly, when you look at the poor away run, it makes the job Benitez has done at the club even more impressive.
But Rafa always said, with the extremely difficult opening set of fixtures, he would not panic, and it was about 38 games, not the first few.
But it is fair to argue, with better away form, especially post-Christmas, safety would have been guaranteed a lot sooner, and if Rafa agrees to stay on at St James’ Park next season, it is something he will need to address.
Of course, if he stays, he is likely to have been assured that the club are willing to help him in his bid to strengthen the side, and that would go a long way of making sure there away form picks up.
It is all about quality, and Benitez can set his sides up to be ultra-defensive away from home, because that is how he sees the best way to get something against sides that have the experience and standard of players that he has.
But having his key defenders consistently performing has been a massive part of that, and even when injuries have hit, it is one of the few positions he has had capable depth to come in as a replacement.
He will need them to continue their solid displays if they are to climb into the top half of the table — a task that seems further off this season than it did last — but certainly keeping Lascelles fit is key to that.
What are your thoughts about Newcastle’s away form? Do you think Rafa gets it right when he sets his teams up away from St James’ Park? Let us know your thoughts…