Leicester City - Newcastle United Preview: Will Ranieri ruin Rafa Benitez’s Premier League return?

Can the Foxes gain a big victory in the Premier League title race as Newcastle United visit the King Power Stadium on Monday evening?

Leicester City - Newcastle United Preview: Will Ranieri ruin Rafa Benitez’s Premier League return?
Can Leicester City overcome a tough test at home against struggling Newcastle United?

With all of their title rivals (besides Arsenal) all in Premier League action at the weekend, Leicester City can rest easy knowing that they will still be top of the table whatever occurs.

However, the pressure on the current league leaders increases significantly on Monday night as Newcastle United travel south to the King Power Stadium to take part in what is set to be a tantalising affair in the Midlands.

Terrific and in turmoil

Looking at the current campaigns of both respective teams, the fortunes of either club couldn’t be any different. Whilst the attentions of pundits and supporters alike have been focused on Leicester City’s outstanding title bid this season, an encapsulating storyline has been developing at the opposite end of the top flight.

Having been embroiled in a relegation battle since their first kick-off against Southampton at St James’ Park, gloom and misery have enveloped Tyneside. In fact, the team have only managed to pick up six wins so far this campaign so it is easy to see why that is the case (especially considering the frankly astounding amount of money that the club has spent this season).

As a result, the Toon are currently sitting in 19th position in the league and look set for their first return to the Championship since 2010 following a run of six consecutive league losses.

However, the directors of the club have acted in recent times in order to avoid a near-catastrophic relegation. Relieving Steve McClaren of his job following a 3-1 home loss to AFC Bournemouth and quickly appointing former Real Madrid and Liverpool boss, Rafa Benitez, fans have been given a new air of optimism.

The hope is that the experienced Spaniard can get the likes of Aleksander Mitrovic, Ayoze Perez and Georginio Wijnaldum firing again, and for Newcastle’s sake, supporters will pray that he’s already had an impact come Monday night’s match in the Midlands.

Newcastle United are now under considerable pressure in the battle for survival | Photo: Getty
Newcastle United are now under considerable pressure in the battle for survival | Photo: Getty

On the other hand, things could not be much better for Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City at the current time. Following a 1-0 win over Watford at Vicarage Road last time out, the Foxes are now sitting five points clear at the top of the Premier League with only nine games left to play.

Consequently, the undoubted surprise package of the season have now been installed by bookmakers and pundits as the outright favourite to lift the league title come the conclusion of the campaign. If the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy stay on form for the next few months, it’s going to be mightily difficult to argue against that particular prediction.

In a period where most predicted that the Foxes could slightly falter, Ranieri’s team has really risen to the challenge by finding a new way of winning games. Previously associated with a quick and direct style of play the Foxes have adopted a tenacious attitude; highlighted by their hard-fought 1-0 wins over Watford and Norwich City in recent weeks.

Therefore, whatever challenge that’s presented to the team on Monday night, most will be confident of coming away with a positive result.

Home comforts

Looking at the recent history between the two sides, most Leicester City fans should be confident going into the clash. Despite Newcastle’s better record when it comes to head-to head; having picked up 51 victories to the Foxes’ 42 in 119 meetings (27 draws), the Midlanders are exemplary on home soil against the Magpies.

In over 20 years since 1994, Leicester have only been defeated by their North-East counterparts on one occasion whether it be at Filbert Street or the King Power Stadium, and even that 2-1 victory came way back in December 1999. As a matter of fact, Benitez’s new club have only managed to net a paltry two goals on Leicester territory since that victory over 17 years ago so the omens of a supposed ‘home advantage’ look positive for Claudio Ranieri and his team.

Leicester City have possessed a stranglehold over this particular fixture in recent time | Photo: Getty
Leicester City have possessed a stranglehold over this particular fixture in recent time | Photo: Getty

Moreover, Leicester City did in fact hold control over this particular fixture in 2015. Picking up two consecutive 3-0 victories on the back of a 1-0 success in the Third Round of the FA Cup, the Geordies have really struggled when taking on their East Midland opponents since the Foxes' return to the top flight in 2014.  Therefore, home fans should hold considerable optimism whilst travelling to the King Power Stadium before the game.

Team News

Coming into the match, Claudio Ranieri has reported no further injury news besides the fact that midfielder Matty James remains out following a long-term knee injury sustained in May last year. However, the Italian did reveal that the former Manchester United midfielder is back in full training so looks to be returning to the first team fold soon.

Elsewhere, Riyad Mahrez has not succumbed to any type of injury after what was a worrying sign in the late stages of the game at Vicarage Road last Saturday. Whilst breaking forward at speed in the closing stages of the victory, the Algerian seemed to pull up with what looked like a hamstring problem. Nevertheless, Ranieri has confirmed that his star-man is fine to take part on Monday evening.

Riyad Mahrez is looking to again have an impact following is winning goal at Vicarage Road | Photo: Getty
Riyad Mahrez is looking to again have an impact following his winning goal at Vicarage Road | Photo: Getty

In the Newcastle camp, new boss, Rafa Benitez does have a depleted squad to contend with for the trip to the East Midlands. With the likes of Paul Dummet, Fabricio Coloccini, Chancel Mbemba and Massadio Haidara having recently been on the injury table, the Magpies have had to field a somewhat unconventional back-four.

On the other hand, supporters may be encouraged by the return of Andros Townsend. After signing from Tottenham Hotspur in the January transfer window, he has not had much of an impact following a hamstring injury. Nonetheless, the Englishman could return for Benitez’s first game as Newcastle boss.

Predicted line-ups

Leicester City – Schmeichel, Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs; Schlupp, Drinkwater, Kante, Mahrez; Okazaki, Vardy.

Newcastle United – Elliot, Janmaat, Taylor, Lascelles, Colback; Shelvey, Anita; Sissoko, Wijnaldum; Perez, Mitrovic.