Rafael Benitez couldn’t have asked for a tougher first fixture as Newcastle manager with his new squad travelling to the East Midlands to face Premier League leaders Leicester on Monday.
The Spaniard was appointed by the Magpies just hours after they sacked Steve McClaren following a disappointing season, where the team has been mired in the relegation for much of the time.
Saturday’s 3-1 reverse at home to Bournemouth was the final nail in McClaren’s coffin and the club decided to act after a fifth defeat in six league games, which left them one point adrift of safety in 19th place.
Benitez has been tasked initially with keeping the Magpies up in their final 10 matches of the campaign and his immediate focus will be trying to prevent the high-flying Foxes from cementing their grip on the league title.
Claudio Ranieri’s table-toppers hold a five-point lead over the chasing pack, courtesy of Saturday’s 1-0 win at Watford, which extended their unbeaten run in the top flight to three games.
They have only suffered one defeat in the new year – a late winner from Danny Welbeck handing title rivals Arsenal a 2-1 victory last month.
Leicester striker Jamie Vardy continues to lead the scoring charts with 19 goals, although he has failed to find the back of the net in his last three outings.
in team news, Riyad Mahrez is expected to start for the hosts, despite being forced off against the Hornets after his winner, with Ranieri confirming the winger just suffered a cramp and is fit.
Matty James has returned to training after missing the first seven months of the campaign with a knee injury, although this fixture will come too soon for the midfielder.
Benitez is likely to assess his players over the next two days before deciding on his matchday squad, but he will definitely be without left-back Paul Dummett, who aggravated a hamstring injury against the Cherries.
Two others are doubtful, with Toon captain Fabricio Coloccini battling to overcome a calf worry, while January signing Andros Townsend has missed the last two encounters with a hamstring problem.