Newcastle hope to get their man at last – as Benitez looks set for hot seat

Steve McClaren
Steve McClaren
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Crisis-hit Newcastle United hope to bring an end to a week-long saga today and conclude talks with Rafa Benitez.

Head coach Steve McClaren has remained in his post at St James’s Park during negotiations with Benitez.

And the relegation-threatened Tynesiders’ treatment of McClaren has drawn criticism from fans.

The 54-year-old has had to prepare the team for Monday night’s game at Leicester City knowing there is little chance of him being in the dugout at the King Power Stadium.

However, McClaren – whose players are scheduled to have the day off – could well learn his fate from managing director Lee Charnley today.

Newcastle have been unwilling to dismiss McClaren before an agreement is in place with Benitez, who, according to reports in Spain, has been offered a three-year deal.

But it seems inconceivable that McClaren could take charge of the team against Leicester should talks break down at the 11th hour.

If that happens – or if the Benitez deal can’t be concluded in time – then it is likely that Ian Cathro and Peter Beardsley will be asked to take charge of the team for the match against the Premier League leaders.

The club are yet to rearrange their pre-match press conference for the Leicester game, given the managerial uncertainty.

Meanwhile, Benitez, sacked as Real Madrid manager in January, would be named the Magpies’ new manager and not head coach.

Benitez has been seeking reassurances over recruitment and United’s ambitions. And the change in job title would be significant given the well-documented problems with the club’s structure.

McClaren and his predecessors have had little control over transfers, which have been overseen by chief scout Graham Carr.

l Winger Riyad Mahrez has given Leicester an injury boost ahead of their crucial game against Newcastle.

The Algerian came off after scoring the winner in the Foxes’ 1-0 victory at Watford last weekend.

There were fears he had suffered a hamstring injury but boss Claudio Ranieri has confirmed his 16-goal star has trained this week and is fit. Ranieri said: “He is good, everybody is in a good condition. There are no problems (with Mahrez).

“It was a little cramp.”

They have lost just three times this season ahead of the Magpies’ visit but Ranieri dismissed any praise to focus on their opponents.

He said: “Now we are not thinking about how many points, we are thinking about Newcastle. It’s a difficult match, they are in a dangerous position. I can’t believe why, they spent more than £100million and I think it will be another difficult match. They are fighting to survive.

“I am very surprised (they are struggling), they have a good manager, good players and fantastic fans.”

And, despite being five points clear of second-placed Tottenham, Ranieri continued to play down the Foxes’ title chances.

He added: “No, we are the same, the favourites are the others. It (the lead) doesn’t matter, we have to fight and at the end we can say ‘we achieved this’, ‘we are in the Europa League, fantastic, we are in the Champions League, amazing’.

Meanwhile, long-term injury victim Matty James is close to a recovery after returning to full training following a knee injury he suffered last year.

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