CHELSEA have identified Newcastle United’s skipper Jamaal Lascelles as their top defensive target when they look to make improvements this summer.

The Blues have admired the 24-year-old since he led the Magpies to the Championship title and have been just as impressed with how he has handled life in the Premier League.

Chelsea - who considered an £18m bid 18 months ago - are looking at ways of improving the squad and seem certain to offload Gary Cahill before the start of next season and replace him with a younger player.

But the Stamford Bridge hierarchy are well aware that they will have to spend big to land the former Nottingham Forest centre-back – and it was only last month when Rafa Benitez suggested Lascelles was worth a staggering £50m.

That was the sum being talked about if Leicester had cashed in on Harry Maguire, with Benitez claiming his skipper is every bit as good and should be in contention for a World Cup spot this summer.

Lascelles has proven his worth at the top level and Newcastle are a better team with him in it.

Benitez would do everything he can to keep him but is also a manager appreciative of players having their price. The Spaniard’s only focus at this stage is keeping Newcastle in the Premier League and tomorrow’s trip to Bournemouth.

Newcastle head to the Vitality Stadium unbeaten in three and fresh from a 13-day break that followed an impressive home victory over Manchester United – the gap to the bottom three is still only two points though despite sitting 13th.

Lascelles said: “Most people would never have thought we would beat Man United. But we beat them, we are on 28 points now and we are in a better position.

“The next two games are massive for us against Bournemouth and Liverpool. We need to be getting a lot of points from those games.

“We didn’t really need a rest, but it won’t do us any harm. To be honest though, I would have liked to have another game around the corner because the confidence is flying.”

Lascelles has looked more and more confident as the season has progressed and is satisfied that his understanding with Florian Lejeune is growing by the day.

He said: “He is a good defender. He offers a lot, he is good on the ball and defensively he was excellent against Man United. I think we played well together and everyone was at it against them. It’s important that we keep it there. We have set our standard and we need to maintain it.”

What also helps the defence is knowing there is a goalkeeper behind it playing at his best. Karl Darlow and Rob Elliot have both had their moments this season, but Benitez has always wanted an extra shot-stopper to turn to.

Martin Dubravka could not have dreamed of a better first appearance after his move from Sparta Prague by turning in a man of the match display to keep a clean sheet against Jose Mourinho’s men.

Lascelles said: “The new keeper was brilliant that day and made some great saves. Normally new players can be a little bit shy or they don’t come out of their shell but in training he has come in, he wants to play and has been bossing people about.

“That is really good because he is the voice at the back and it is important that he speaks to his defenders. Fair play to him. He made some great saves and kept us a clean sheet.”