Rafa Benitez

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Newcastle linked with targets as Benitez begins transfer quest

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Newcastle United’s players have canceled their Christmas party, as manager Rafa Benitez admits he’s working on January gifts for the St. James’ Park set.

The Magpies have one point from their last eight matches, and face Arsenal, West Ham, and Manchester City in the run-up to the New Year, closing off a run of five matches in 16 days with Brighton and Stoke.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City vs. Spurs ]

Benitez says he’s begun talks with managing director Lee Charnley about the January window. The team is expected to make moves whether Mike Ashley completes a reported sale of the team or not. From Sky Sports:

“At this time it is just to talk about ideas,” he said. “You might say ‘I would like to sign this player’ and someone will say ‘£40m’ – maybe it is not realistic.

“The main thing, we had this conversation, then we have to move forward quickly. I don’t know the details but at least we were talking about that. We have to progress and it is so obvious that we have to improve things.”

Newcastle has been linked with a number of notable names a few weeks from the start of the January market, including Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, prolific Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun, as well as Liverpool’s Danny Ings and Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.

Report: Newcastle sale closer after improved bid of $400 million

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The Geordie dream appears one giant step closer to reality after Amanda Staveley has reportedly made a significantly larger bid in her attempt to purchase Newcastle United from long-embattled owner Mike Ashley.

[ TIMELINE: Ashley puts club up for sale | Staveley’s first bid rejected ]

According to multiple reports out of the UK — the Telegraph offers the most information at this time — Staveley has increased her initial offer from $335 million to today’s $400-million figure which is expected to be enough to convince Ashley to accept and bring to an end his decade-long, rocky relationship with the Toon Army.

Ashley purchased the club for $177 million back in 2007 and has reportedly invested somewhere in the neighborhood of another $177 million, in the form of interest-free loans, during his stewardship. He stands to make a sizable profit in light of today’s reports, though his original asking price of $534 million is nowhere close to being met.

[ STREAM: Newcastle host Everton — Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET ]

The biggest question which remains — now that will he or won’t he sell? appears to have been answered — is how quickly the deal can be completed, thus allowing Staveley to back manager Rafa Benitez during the January transfer window. Once the two sides enter into deeper takeover talks and the process of transferring ownership from one to the other begins, a transfer embargo will be activated.

Benitez and Ashley traded verbal jabs over the club’s transfer dealings — or, lack thereof — in the summer, and the Spaniard has again this week insisted significant investment is needed in January, otherwise the Magpies could very well be relegated, once again. After a strong start to the season, Newcastle are winless in their last seven Premier League games (six losses) and have tumbled to 16th in the league table, now just two points clear of the relegation zone.

Premier League roundup: Foxes flying again

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Leicester City’s entertaining win over Newcastle United at St. James’ Park wasn’t just a fun way to end the Premier League day, it was a clarion call that the 2015-16 Premier League champions have their act very much together.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

That win, along with a Tottenham blowout and West Ham’s upset of Chelsea, conspired to make Saturday’s appetizers for a double derby Sunday quite tasty.

Newcastle United 2-3 Leicester CityRECAP

A thriller at St. James’ Park ended with Leicester City now a very real part of the race for the Top Seven. Joselu put Newcastle ahead 1-0 and Dwight Gayle answered a pair of Leicester goals — including another wonderful marker from Riyad Mahrez. But a point was not to be had for Rafa Benitez, as Ayoze Perez scored an own goal to give the Foxes all three points and eighth place in the Premier League.

Claude Puel is now 4W-2D-1L as Leicester City manager, and have won three straight. Next up? A reunion with Southampton at St. Mary’s.

West Ham United 1-0 ChelseaRECAP

David Moyes‘ Hammers have built on their near upset of Manchester City, using a Marko Arnautovic goal to harm Chelsea’s Top Four hopes. The Austrian’s goal was his first for West Ham, and moves the club nearer to safety. Chelsea could finish the weekend as low as fourth if Liverpool wins the Merseyside Derby.

Swansea City 1-0 West Bromwich AlbionRECAP

Wilfried Bony‘s second half goal gave Paul Clement‘s Swans a much-needed win and kept West Bromwich Albion winless since August.

Burnley 1-0 WatfordRECAP

The 10-man Hornets didn’t play like they were down a man, but failed to find the answer for Scott Arfield‘s opener. Burnley’s now six points clear of Watford and still in the Top Four mix.

Crystal Palace 2-2 BournemouthRECAP

Christian Benteke seized a stoppage time penalty against managerial direction, and promptly saw it saved by Asmir Begovic. That left Palace in 20th instead of 18th. Bournemouth dodges a bullet thanks to a pair of solid goals from Jermain Defoe, while Palace’s goals came from a Luka Milivojevic penalty and a Scott Dann in-tight finish.

Huddersfield Town 2-0 Brighton and Hove AlbionRECAP

Steve Mounie refound his early season form to lead the Terriers to all three points in a battle of newly-promoted sides at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur 5-1 Stoke CityRECAP

If Spurs’ slump wasn’t officially ended by a 3-0 win over APOEL Nicosia, it’s dead and buried by a four-goal blowout of Stoke City. Harry Kane scored twice while Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen added to a Stoke own goal in the win.

WATCH LIVE: Newcastle United vs. Leicester City

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Newcastle United hopes to halt the progress of visiting Leicester City when the two sides meet Saturday at St. James’ Park (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

USMNT right back DeAndre Yedlin starts for Rafa Benitez‘s Magpies, with Jamaal Lascelles and Christian Atsu both included on the bench.

Leicester have all their men, including Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, as Claude Puel seeks another win.

LINEUPS

Newcastle United: Darlow, Yedlin, Clark, Lejeune, Manquillo, Ritchie, Merino, Hayden, Murphy, Gayle, JoseluSubs: Elliot, Lascelles, Shelvey, Diame, Atsu, Perez, Mitrovic.

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Maguire, Morgan, Chilwell, Mahrez, Iborra, Ndidi, Albrighton, Gray, Vardy. Subs: Hamer, Fuchs, Dragovic, King, Ulloa, Okazaki, Iheanacho.

Premier League preview: Newcastle vs. Leicester City

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  • Newcastle United welcome back Jamaal Lascelles and Christian Atsu and has a clean bill of health.
  • Leicester City has no new injury concerns with Matty James (Achilles) and Robert Huth (ankle) the only absentees.
  • Newcastle United have lost only two of their last 17 home league meetings with Leicester City, although the Foxes won on their last visit to St James’ Park in November 2015.
  • Jamie Vardy is one away from becoming the first Leicester City player to hit 50 Premier League goals.
  • Shinji Okazaki scored in both fixtures the last time these sides met in 2015/16, making Newcastle the only team he’s scored in more than one match against in the Premier League.

Newcastle has lost five of its last six games, but they return home to try and turn things around with Leicester City coming to St. James Park on Saturday evening. (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Rafa Benitez has plenty of big-game experience – usually in UEFA Champions League matches – but now his Newcastle side is in a relegation battle and needs a big performance to create some space between the side and the drop zone.

Leicester City meanwhile has won two games on the bounce and has lost just one game in its last nine fixtures, showing good form with Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Damarei Gray showing their talent on a week-by-week basis.

What they’re saying

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez on his team’s recent results: “We have to improve as a team to be sure we can compete against some of the top sides. The teams at the top at the moment, we are a little bit far away, but still we could do something against Liverpool, for example. I think it is important that the next two games at home, if we can compete, we can win. If we cannot compete – like happened in the second half against Manchester United or Chelsea – we cannot win. As I have said before, we have to maximize what we have, and what we have is fantastic fans behind the team, at home and away. So, they have to show again that they support the team because these are the players we have.”

Leicester City manager Claude Puel on his side’s performance since joining the club: “I don’t know if I expected this but the most important thing is to continue this work and to keep building momentum and confidence. It is important to get results for confidence and to try and improve all the time. Time will tell. For me it is about keeping a good focus and concentration on the next game and to try and play a strong game.”

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Prediction: Newcastle will come out with plenty of energy and spirit, but defensive frailties, even with the return of Jamal Lascelles will cause them to lose as the quality of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez take over. Leicester City 2-1 Newcastle