Rafa Benitez says Jamaal Lascelles is committed to Newcastle United – amid speculation about his future.
Lascelles, Benitez’s captain, has been outstanding so far this season.
The defender has led Newcastle to three successive Premier League wins.
And the club, which is 10th in the Premier League table, is now just two points short of Benitez’s 40-point target.
Lascelles, signed from Nottingham Forest in 2014, has been linked with Chelsea and West Ham United in recent months.
However, the 24-year-old – who signed a new long-term contract earlier this season – is “happy” at St James’s Park, according to Benitez, who handed him the captain’s armband in the summer of 2016 following the departure of Fabricio Coloccini.
Asked about speculation over Lascelles’ future, Benitez said: “He’s happy, he’s training well, he’s improving, he’s focused.
“You cannot stop speculation about players, but, at the moment, and I was talking with him, he’s just focused and trying to improve his game.”
Benitez believes that Lascelles – who broke into Benitez’s starting XI two years ago – is at the right club, at the right time.
“At the moment, I think he knows he has to continue progressing and learning,” said United’s manager. “He’s happy here.”
You cannot stop speculation about players, but, at the moment, and I was talking with him, he’s just focused and trying to improve his game.Rafa Benitez
Lascelles was only 22 when he was appointed as captain.
The former England Under-21 international says Benitez, his team-mates and the club’s fans make it “easy” for him to lead the team.
“They have put everything in place,” said Lascelles.
“I’m playing with some excellent players who give their all for the badge, the fans are really supportive which brings a lot of confidence and with the manager shows us so much trust, it feels as though there’s not much we can do wrong.
“I definitely feel like our hard work over the whole season is paying off now.”
Lascelles was disappointed to miss out on an England call-up for last month’s friendlies against Italy and Holland.
“The centre-half had hoped to get a chance ahead of the summer’s World Cup finals in Russia.
“First and foremost I need to keep playing well for Newcastle every week, trying to finish as high as we can, then if he (England manager Gareth Southgate) decides to select me in the summer, I’d be over the moon,” said the Derby-born player.
“But again I’m not going to let my head drop about it if it doesn’t happen because that’s football.
“There are other players in my position who are doing really well at their clubs, as we’ve seen by how well they’ve done in the last two friendlies.
“So it would be a nice achievement for me but first and foremost, I’m concentrating on doing well for Newcastle.”