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Rafa Benitez Leicester first match.jpg

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Benítez: A lot has changed since last King Power visit

Written by Dan King

On 14th March, 2016, Rafa Benítez's first match in charge of Newcastle United ended in a 1-0 defeat at Leicester City.

Now, more than two years later, he takes the Magpies back to the King Power Stadium for the first time.

The Foxes went on to win the Premier League title that season while United were relegated, despite an upturn in form under their new manager.

A lot has changed since then, however; Newcastle stormed straight back to the top flight last term and it will be a very different side which takes to the field on Saturday, with Jamaal Lascelles, Ayoze Pérez and Jonjo Shelvey the only survivors in the starting XI.

Looking back to his first game at the helm, which was settled by a Shinji Okazaki goal in the first half, Benítez admitted: "We knew that was a difficult time, and we didn't have too much time.

"We had to change a lot of things; the relegation was big change and we had to move players around and bring players for the Championship.

"After, again, the Premier League is another challenge so we had to change a lot of things and I think we did well in the end.

"We are pleased with that and at the same time we can see a big difference between the team at the beginning and this one; in terms of quality, in terms of names, in terms of experience, a lot of things. But the main one, and the positive one, is the character and the mentality of this group of players."

But while Newcastle are almost unrecognisable from the team which dropped out of the Premier League in 2015/16, Benítez feels that Leicester are not all that different from the side which lifted the title that term.

After a slow start to the current campaign, they're now challenging for a European place and Benítez said: "I think that what they achieved, winning the league, was massive. It's unbelievable that they did it in the way that they did with the competition that you have in the Premier League.

"Then, people were maybe thinking that they were not very good, but they were a very good team - well organised, compact and Claudio Ranieri was going a great job.

"Now you can see what this team is, the quality that they have. Claude Puel is doing a great job so now they are so dangerous, they are on a good run so this thing that we are safe and maybe we will be relaxed is something we want to avoid."

Newcastle will be without on-loan Islam Slimani, who is ineligible against his parent club, but Benítez has no fresh injury concerns.

The manager said: "We are fine. We don’t have any problems, to be fair.

"Slimani obviously cannot play, but Joselu has recovered so is nearly fully fit, so more or less everybody is available. (Mohamed Diamé) has been training."

"We can see a big difference between the team at the beginning and this one; in terms of quality, in terms of names, in terms of experience, a lot of things. But the main one, and the positive one, is the character and the mentality of this group of players."

Rafa Benítez

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