Spaniards wait on next move from Newcastle on defender

Rafa Benitez. Picture by Frank Reid
Rafa Benitez. Picture by Frank Reid

Eibar are waiting on Newcastle United’s next move in their pursuit of Florian Lejeune.

The Magpies are ready to exploit Lejeune’s £8.7million release clause.

Lejeune – who left Manchester City last summer – has been earmarked as a potential defensive recruit, with boss Rafa Benitez keen to strengthen his defence ahead of Newcastle’s return to the Premier League.

Paris-born Lejeune – who had a spell at Villarreal earlier in his career – signed a four-year deal at Eibar last summer after leaving City and impressed last season, when his team finished 10th in La Liga.

Eibar sporting director Fran Garagarza told Marca: “I’m not very optimistic. I see it difficult for Lejeune to stay.

“We are worried that Newcastle are taking very strong steps.”

Newcastle could force through a deal in the coming days, with Benitez keen to see a number of new faces arrive before his squad reports back for the start of pre-season training on July 3.

Meanwhile, the Premier League fixtures were unveiled yesterday, with Championship champions Newcastle handed a home opener against star-studded Tottenham, scheduled for Saturday, August 12, although it could well be chosen for live TV coverage.

Spurs were the last side the Magpies played in their last top-flight campaign, winning 5-1 at St James’s Park on the final day of 2015-16.

Benitez said: “It’s a great start at home to Tottenham, and a really exciting first game at St James’s Park for our fans to enjoy.

“We will all have extra motivation for that game.

“But it will be a very tough start too, because Spurs showed how good they are last season.

“Of course, they were our last Premier League opponents here too, which was a memorable match for everyone. But this time around it will be completely different.

“After Spurs, then we have a good run of games, and I’m pleased to see it’s quite a balanced list in terms of the teams we’re up against.”

The Magpies have announced a third pre-season friendly, against Hearts at Tynecastle on Friday, July 14 (7.45pm).

They have already set up trips to Preston (July 22) and Bradford City (July 26).

Hearts are managed by former Newcastle coach Ian Cathro, who left St James’s Park last season to take charge at the Scottish Premiership club, while ex-Magpie defender Aaron Hughes is in their squad.

Only three stands at Tynecastle will be open because of ongoing redevelopment.

Newcastle have met Hearts 27 times going back to 1897, but the most recent meeting was back in August, 1995, when a Peter Beardsley goal secured a 1-0 win for the Tynesiders in front of a 13,337 crowd.

Other visits in recent memory include a 1-0 defeat, to a goal from Ian Baird, in 1992, a 1-0 victory in 1987 when Paul Gascoigne scored and a 1-1 draw in 1980, when Bobby Shinton’s Magpie opener was cancelled out by a goal from Chris Robertson, brother of future Newcastle forward John Robertson.

The clubs also met over two legs in the Texaco Cup in September, 1971. An Andy Lynch strike gave Hearts victory in the first leg in Edinburgh, but Newcastle won the return 2-1 thanks to a double from Malcolm Macdonald, with defender Alan Anderson’s goal late in extra time setting up a shoot-out decider.

Newcastle edged through 4-3.