Rafa Benitez has urged Newcastle to be “more competitive” in the summer transfer market after they took a big step to retaining their Premier League status with victory at Leicester.
Ayoze Perez scored his first away league goal of the season with a glancing header as the Magpies recovered from back-to-back defeats to move 10 points clear of the relegation zone.
Newcastle spent just over £20m last summer – plus a further £20m in January – and manager Benitez, whose contract is set to expire at the end of the season, says they can “compete” with teams in the top half of the league by doing the “right things”.
“You can do everything right with your tactics, but the other team has one player that can make the difference,” Benitez, whose side have moved up to 13th place, told Sky Sports.
“You’d have to pay £30m to buy a Leicester player.”
The Foxes started confidently, having won their previous four matches under Brendan Rodgers, but they struggled to play through their disciplined visitors.
Salomon Rondon almost handed the visitors a spectacular lead when he struck the crossbar with a powerful free-kick from 35 yards.
Newcastle remained resolute and were rewarded when Perez struck the decisive blow with over half-an-hour played.
The Spaniard rose well inside the Foxes’ box to meet Matt Ritchie’s cross and nod the ball over Kasper Schmeichel.
Rodgers’ first home defeat as Leicester boss sees his side remain in seventh, although eighth-placed Wolves are level on points with two games in hand.
Newcastle produce model away display
Leicester dominated the ball with more than 70% possession but Newcastle sat deep and restricted them to just five shots on target in the entire match.
Martin Dubravka saved well after a solo run by Harvey Barnes and a right-footed strike by Ben Chilwell as Leicester tried to force the initiative early on, but it was the visitors who posed the greater threat on the counter attack – and Rondon’s 15th-minute free-kick almost brought spectacular reward.
Benitez’ side were rigid in their shape and targeted Leicester midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, who lost the ball nine times in the first half, before springing clear in attack.
Ritchie whipped in two testing crosses with his excellent left foot before Newcastle took the lead, as Leicester failed to heed the warning.
The visitors pinched the ball deep in the Leicester half once more before Ritchie delivered an accurate cross for Perez to convert for his seventh Premier League goal of the season – securing just Newcastle’s third win on the road.
Vardy epitomises Leicester frustration
Rodgers’ tenure as manager got off to a losing start with defeat at Watford, but the Northern Irishman seems to have lifted the mood at the club in recent weeks having secured four wins from five games in charge.
Jamie Vardy has enjoyed a resurgence in his form with eight goals in eight games before Friday, but he was denied the opportunity to run in behind Newcastle.
The Magpies sat deep, allowing Leicester possession in the midfield but making it tough for them to play between the lines.
When Vardy’s chance eventually came in the final 10 minutes – as Youri Tielemans slid him through on goal – he appeared to rush his effort and lifted the ball over the crossbar.
James Maddison – who has created more chances than any other Premier League player this season – is key to Leicester’s creativity and if he has a poor game, the team tends to suffer.
The 21-year-old found it difficult to pick up the ball in space and he made just one key pass forward in the whole 90 minutes.
Leicester are in still in the hunt for European football this season but Rodgers will have to find an alternative way of utilising his forwards when opposing teams sit deep.
Man of the match – Matt Ritchie (Newcastle)
‘Our final pass wasn’t there’ – what they said
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said: “It’s difficult to break down a team like that. It’s an area we will get better at. There wasn’t a lot in the game, our final pass just wasn’t there but we gave everything. We couldn’t break down their defence.
“We will learn from it; this is why I am here. In games like that, you have to stay patient and have tactical discipline. The players have been first class since I came here but if you’re not quite on it, a result like this can happen.
“The speed of our passing in particular can be much better. We let them get into shape too early. It needs to come quicker. We changed it around a few times but it was one of those evenings. It will be good for our learning going forward.”
Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez said: “It was a good game against a good team. We did very well. Our players worked so hard. This relationship between the players and fans means a lot to us. The players and fans tried to do their best.
“As a coach, you always have a game plan. You can prepare however you want but it depends on the players to make the difference.
“The problem against James Maddison or Jamie Vardy is you have to concentrate from the first minute to the last. We are really pleased with the clean sheet and three points. You have to enjoy today and be ready for the next one.
“We had two or three counter-attacks that we could have had a little more composure and scored more.”
A happy hunting ground for the Magpies – the stats
- Newcastle have won back-to-back league visits to Leicester in the top flight for the first time since September 1959 under manager Charlie Mitten.
- This was Leicester City’s eighth home league defeat of the campaign, their most in a Premier League season at the King Power Stadium since it opened in 2002. Only in 1994-95 (10) and 2001-02 (9) have they lost more home Premier League games in a single season.
- Newcastle have now picked up 16 points away from home in the Premier League this season (P17 W3 D7 L7), as many as they earned in the whole of the 2017-18 campaign on the road.
- Leicester City completed 649 passes in this match, their highest total in a Premier League game since 2003-04 (when Opta began recording this data); indeed, three of their four highest successful pass tallies in this time in the division have been recorded in their six fixtures under Brendan Rodgers.
- Ayoze Perez has been directly involved in four of Newcastle’s past six league goals (three goals, one assist), scoring three of their last five.
- Since his debut for Newcastle at the start of the 2016-17 Championship season, Matt Ritchie has assisted 17 league goals for the club, at least four more than any other player in that time.
Leicester travel to West Ham on Saturday, 20 April (15:00 BST), while Newcastle host Southampton in the evening of the same day (17:30).