There was no dream start for Newcastle United’s new manager Rafael Benitez on Monday night, as the spirited Magpies undeservedly went down 1-0 to Leicester City at the King Power Stadium due to Shiji Okazaki’s acrobatic first-half goal.
With just three short days to work with the Magpies’ squad ahead of their daunting trip to face Claudio Ranieri’s table topping Foxes, Benitez was always facing a hectic race against time to make a mark on his new side and get across his ideas, however, despite only having a brief period to work with the players, there were plenty of encouraging signs in United’s play.
For the first time in months Newcastle looked tactically astute and defensively organised away from home, even against this season’s two outstanding players Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, however, a discernible lack of quality and composure in possession meant that they never really looked like getting back into the game once Okazaki had opened the scoring with a fine improvised finish following Vardy’s knock down from an offside position.
To their credit, the Magpies rallied and tried to force their way back into the game after that sucker punch rather than rolling over and accepting a pummelling as they almost certainly would have under Steve McClaren, but, unfortunately, their efforts were to no avail – although they did have a late penalty appeal controversially waved away when Sissoko’s goal-bound volley struck Wes Morgan’s outstretched elbow.
As if Sunday’s Tyne Wear derby wasn’t already big enough, 19th placed Newcastle now head into the game trailing their Wearside rivals by one point with nine games remaining, and anything other than 3pts against Sam Allardyce’s side will leave Benitez with a mountain to climb in his unenviable task to steer the Magpies to Premier League safety.
Here’s how the Newcastle players rated in Monday night’s 1-0 defeat.