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Preview: Leicester City vs. Newcastle United

Sports Mole previews the Premier League clash between leaders Leicester City and Rafael Benitez's Newcastle United.

Leicester City host Newcastle United at the King Power Stadium on Monday evening knowing that they would regain their five-point lead at the top of the standings with three points over the North-East outfit.

The Magpies make the trip to the East Midlands for Rafael Benitez's first game in charge with the club currently languishing in the relegation zone, but three points against the Foxes would move them into 17th position.

Leicester City

Claudio Ranieri celebrates at the end of the Premier League game between Watford and Leicester City on March 5, 2016© Getty Images

When Leicester went into a two-week break on the back of a last-gasp defeat at title rivals Arsenal, there were fears that the setback could linger and affect the Foxes once they returned to Premier League action.

However, while their performances were far from perfect against both Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion, they came out of three games in quick succession with seven points to their name and at this stage of the season, that could prove invaluable.

Claudio Ranieri's side are now having to contend with teams setting up defensively against them, but so far, they are overcoming that challenge. While the narrow 1-0 win over Norwich was fortunate, they created chance after chance in the 2-2 draw with West Brom three days later to show that they are capable of making adjustments of their own.

They have also shown, so far, that they can cope with the change in expectations. They went into their away fixture with Watford knowing that Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal had dropped points against each other, which gave the Foxes an opening to extend their lead at the top of the standings.

The Hornets had their moments during the contest at Vicarage Road, but a piece of brilliance from Riyad Mahrez ultimately proved decisive and to maintain a clean sheet for the remainder of the match showed that Leicester can be equally effective at the back.

Jamie Vardy may have gone off the boil in attack, but given his goal haul earlier in the campaign, he is always going to attract extra attention from defenders, and that is freeing up other members of the team to step up from the supporting role that they have occupied since August.

Leonardo Ulloa, Danny Drinkwater and Andy King have all netted crucial goals of late, and it has shown that Leicester offer a threat through more than just their two star men.

Recent form: WWLWDW

Newcastle United

Real Madrid manager Rafa Benitez pictured in November 2015© Getty Images

Like Leicester, Newcastle have not played for nine days, but last week proved to be a turbulent few days for the club with the uncertainty surrounding Steve McClaren's future hindering preparations for their visit to the King Power Stadium.

On Friday, the inevitable was finally confirmed as McClaren was replaced by Benitez, who has been trusted with the task of trying to keep the North-East giants in the top flight, something that may be easier said than done given the club's recent performances.

Against Stoke City, Newcastle were solid in defence without offering anything in attack and they ultimately paid the price for their lack of intent when Xherdan Shaqiri netted late on for the Potters.

Three days later, against Bournemouth, much was expected of the Magpies when they returned to St James' Park, but they were outworked and outclassed by the Cherries, who did not have to do much to return to the south coast with the three points.

It highlighted that Newcastle are not far off from a crisis, and if Benitez cannot gain a result against either Leicester or fierce rivals Sunderland on Sunday afternoon, he will face a fight to win over the supporters on both a short-term and long-term basis.

Benitez has shown in the past that he can get results - which are top of his priorities right now - but he is also going to have to bring back the passion and attacking football that the club's fans crave or else his reign is destined to fail.

While he faces selection dilemmas all over the pitch, his most important one will come when choosing his striker. Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ayoze Perez were favoured by McClaren, but Benitez may recognise that Seydou Doumbia needs to be used sooner rather than later with the Ivorian yet to start a match since signing on loan from Roma.

Recent form: LLWLLL

Team News

Fabricio Coloccini of Newcastle United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Southampton at St James Park on August 9, 2015 in Newcastle, England. © Getty Images

After a nine-day break and with no injury issues to contend with, Ranieri is expected to name the same team that started against Watford.

That will mean that January signing Daniel Amartey will have to wait longer to make his second start in the Premier League.

Newcastle will be without defender Paul Dummett, but Benitez hopes to have both Fabricio Coloccini and Andros Townsend available again after injury.

The pair watched on from the sidelines as their side dropped further into trouble, but their return would provide a significant boost to Benitez ahead of what is a crucial week for the club.

Leicester City possible starting lineup:
Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez, Kante, Drinkwater, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy

Newcastle United possible starting lineup:
Elliot, Janmaat, Taylor, Lascelles, Colback, Shelvey, Saivet, Sissoko, Townsend, Wijnaldum, Mitrovic

Head To Head

Tonight's meeting will represent the 120th time that the two teams have met in a competitive match, with Leicester prevailing 41 times and Newcastle emerging victorious on 51 occasions.

As far as the last three fixtures are concerned, Leicester have won each of them without conceding a goal, but before then, Newcastle held a long-standing unbeaten streak over the Foxes.

Between November 2000 and October 2014, the Magpies went nine games without suffering a defeat, with five wins and four draws being registered during that period.

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We say: Leicester City 3-1 Newcastle United

While Newcastle's players should naturally produce some sort of a response after the arrival of Benitez, we still expect Leicester to earn the three points this evening. Newcastle have looked fragile at the back, and with the likes of Vardy and Mahrez in attack, Leicester should have enough to run out comfortable winners.

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Angelo Ogbonna Obinza of West Ham United competes for the ball against Jonjo Shelvey and Aleksandar Mitrovic of Newcastle United at St James' Park on January 16, 2016
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12Leicester CityLeicester520358-36
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17Leeds UnitedLeeds5032512-73
18Newcastle UnitedNewcastle5023613-72
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