Rafa Has Us Believing!

Last updated : 15 March 2016 By Footy Mad - Editor

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There was no winning start for Rafael Benitez as Shinji Okazaki's first-half bicycle kick kept Newcastle one point adrift of safety. But amid the gloom of a 10th defeat in 13 games, there were signs that the new manager is already putting his stamp on the team ahead of their Super Sunday showdown with Sunderland.

Benitez described "commitment" as the main attribute he wanted to see from his Newcastle players in the build-up to their trip to the Midlands, and the former Liverpool and Real Madrid manager will certainly have taken encouragement from how they started at the King Power Stadium.

Moussa Sissoko set the tone by sprinting 50 yards to close down Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel in the opening 20 seconds, and Newcastle's aggressive approach immediately put Claudio Ranieri's side on the back foot.

In the Monday Night Football studio, Southampton manger Ronald Koeman was impressed. "They showed really good mentality from the start in the game," he said. Ayoze Perez, Jack Colback and Sissoko had presentable scoring chances in the early stages, and after 20 minutes Newcastle had already had as many shots (five) as in the whole of their last away game against Stoke.

The attacking intent was a welcome sight for the travelling fans, and there was also evidence of improved defensive organisation. "If I had to think of Newcastle in the Premier League era, it would be madness, people running all over the place and getting caught out of position," said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher before kick-off.

But while Benitez had only had three days to work with his new players, he had clearly managed to get some of his ideas across. Newcastle lined up in two tight banks of four when Leicester had possession, with Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic also helping out from more advanced positions.

"You never associate Newcastle with being a compact team, but that's everything Rafa's about," added Carragher, who played under the Spaniard for six years at Anfield. "That's really tight, and very difficult to beat. That's what they were doing - they were really frustrating Leicester."

With Benitez a typically animated figure in the dugout, Newcastle succeeded in limiting Leicester's scoring opportunities. "You could see what Rafa had worked on in his first two or three days," added Carragher. "It took me back to what we were doing at Liverpool. Very difficult to play through, very compact and very organised."

Newcastle covered 110.96km at the King Power Stadium compared to Leicester's 109.73km.

Leicester did occasionally find space to attack Newcastle's makeshift defence, but it took Okazaki's moment of magic to find a way through. The stats highlighted how effectively the visitors contained the hosts, with the winner coming from the Foxes' only shot on target.

It was the first time all season that Leicester have only mustered a single shot on target over the course of a Premier League fixture, and their overall total of four efforts on goal was way down on their average of 10.17 per game.

Newcastle were ultimately undone by a failure to defend a set piece, but Koeman and Carragher felt they were unlucky to fall behind - especially with questions of offside over Jamie Vardy's positioning in the build-up to the goal. "The goal came out of nothing," said Koeman. "Newcastle were making it very difficult and Leicester didn't create anything."

Benitez's men continued to stifle the hosts for most of the second half, but they couldn't find the cutting edge in attack to match their new-found defensive solidity. Their struggles in front of goal were summed up by a mis-hit effort from substitute Siem de Jong in the 84th minute, and Carragher felt a lack of quality up front should be Benitez's biggest concern.

"A perception of Newcastle is that they have too much quality to be in this position, and that maybe it's an attitude problem," he said. "But I think there is a lack of quality there." Only bottom side Aston Villa have scored fewer goals than Newcastle this season, and only seven of their 28 have come away from St James' Park.

"I think the goal record shows that there aren't enough good players and that's why they're in this situation," added Carragher. "We didn't see that quality in front of goal. It's difficult against Leicester but the goal record tells you everything."

Benitez will need to find a remedy to Newcastle's goalscoring travails ahead of Sunday's vital Tyne-Wear derby, but he can take heart from other aspects of their performance against Leicester. With games against fellow strugglers Sunderland, Norwich and Aston Villa still to come, the Magpies might yet be able to fight their way out of trouble.