Rafa Benitez's verdict on Steve McClaren's handling of in-form Jamaal Lascelles
Lascelles has been outstanding during the relegation-threatened club’s four-game unbeaten run.
The defender hardly featured under Steve McClaren, Benitez’s predecessor at St James’s Park, but he has become a key figure in recent weeks.
“He’s a young player, so I understand Steve (McClaren) maybe had different options,” said Benitez, whose side take on Aston Villa this afternoon in a must-win game.
“Physically, he is very strong. Young players will improve if they listen and try things the coaches explain to them.
“My coaches have been working with him and (Chancel) Mbemba. Just little things in terms of positioning and talking.
“He likes to work hard and that is the main thing for him to improve.”
Asked if he was “surprised” that McClaren didn’t use Lascelles more, Benitez added: “I understand that he is young, so when you have a centre back with more experience, and you are under pressure, you play the one with more experience.
“(Lionel) Messi at 17, OK, you play him. But at centre-back, it is different.”
Benitez also feels Lascelles has the attributes needed by a team which sometimes has to play a high line.
“When you are at the bottom, and you need to win, then sometimes you have to play high. He is someone who can recover and turn, he has some pace. He has trained well.”