Nicolas Jackson scored his team-leading seventh league goal of the season this weekend, eighth in all competitions, effectively putting the game out of reach for Sheffield United and ensuring that we would actually win back-to-back league games at home for the first time in over a year.
Jackson’s seven goals are good enough for joint-ninth in the Premier League scoring race (well, eighth in the race for second place behind Erling Haaland), which isn’t necessarily outstanding, but he has already equaled the squad’s best from last season (Kai Havertz) and two seasons before then (Jorginho). So, you know, small victories.
But like the rest of the team, Jackson’s performances have been rather inconsistent at times, though less so far a lack of effort and more so for a lack of execution. Only one player has underperformed his xG more (Dominic Calvert-Lewin), even as Jackson’s getting shots on target from excellent positions (third best in the league in that metric, npxG/shot, behind Taiwo Awoniyi and Alexander Isak). But we also see that Jackson is the youngest player in the current top 15 (Cole Palmer not far behind), which also fits in well with the major theme of the season, youth.
Then again, age is but a number, be that young or old. Jackson has stood out from the rest of the group for the number of yellow cards he’s managed to collect already — many for silly things like dissent — and he’s also gotten into a few ... extracurriculars ... be that with opposing players or with his own fans.
Head coach Mauricio Pochettino has talked about Jackson’s need to be “more mature to manage situations” of that nature, and while that remains a work in progress, Jackson says he is indeed listening — listening to the right people, and only the right people.
“Although everybody is talking s***, I am very happy I don’t care what people say. It is just people who don’t know about football. I will just continue to play more games and score more goals for the team.
“I should have scored more because I have missed some chances. The Premier League is different from La Liga, where I came from. I am trying to adapt myself. It is not an excuse. I am trying to continue to work harder and listen to people. Not the people who do not know football, I listen to the coach that knows more football and try to improve myself.”
So that’s certainly a good first step. And it’s nice to see further evidence of Pochettino creating a strong connection with his players. Jackson’s using that support to prove the world wrong — whether that’s the reality or just his perception, it doesn’t even really matter.
“[Pochettino] has been with a lot of young players, so he motivates me every day and tells me to go and he has seen people worse than me [in the past] and they are now big players. De Bruyne was here and Salah was here. They struggled here and are now big players. They didn’t listen to people who don’t know football, he keeps telling me that.
“He knows football; they don’t know football, so I don’t listen to them.”
Of course, at the end of the day, the only thing that will change that narrative is goals (and/or assists). That’s what changed the narrative (perception) for De Bruyne and Salah — the tragedy was that it didn’t happen in Chelsea colors — or for someone like Didier Drogba, who faced many similar hurdles early on in his Chelsea career as well. (Jackson needs just 3 more goals to equal Drogba’s Premier League total from his first season, for example.) The difference with Didier was that the coach believed in him (the same guy did not believe in KDB or Mo). By the spirit of Ted Lasso!
“[The season has been] okay, it is not what I was going for, though it is my first season, so I am happy.”
“[We] still believe. We have just played 17 games. You cannot just jump from one to a hundred; you have to go step by step. For me, all the players here everybody has talent and can be there if they are good mentally. We have to forget about social media and just focus on ourselves and try to win games for the team.
“The coach is really, really helping us a lot. We believe in him and he believes in us because he has been with young players, and we are all young. That is not an excuse but we are still working to try and understand each other on the pitch and to win games.”
-Nicolas Jackson; source: Evening Standard
Forget about social media and focus on ourselves? See, they’re already growing up right before our eyes!