Leicester City 1-0 Newcastle United

 Posted by at 6:47 AM
Mar 152016
Shinji Okazaki’s strike was his fifth league goal of the season

Leicester extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to five points as Rafael Benitez’s first match in charge of Newcastle ended in defeat.

Shinji Okazaki’s spectacular overhead kick earned the Foxes a win which, with just eight games left, moved them closer to their first league title.

An improved Newcastle went close through Ayoze Perez and Moussa Sissoko.

But ultimately Leicester’s pressing foiled them and the defeat leaves the Magpies second from bottom.

Leicester show no signs of wavering

Before the match, Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri refused to accept his team were favourites to win the title, insisting that qualifying for the Europa League was the target.

But as Ranieri gesticulated on the sidelines in the closing minutes, urging the home fans to increase the volume, his actions suggested that he and his team are chasing more than a chance to compete in Europe’s second-tier competition.

The Foxes have won their last three Premier League games against Newcastle United after winning none of the previous seven

With every passing week, the prospect of the Foxes achieving what their former striker Gary Lineker describes as possibly the most “unlikely triumph in the history of team sport” becomes more likely.

A team which at the start of the season were among the bookies’ favourites to be relegated are on the home straight, unbeaten in four matches and closing in on history.

Ranieri’s men are 12 points clear of Manchester City and 11 ahead of Arsenal, leaving many to believe the title is a two-way fight between the leaders and second-placed Tottenham.

A hint of a Rafa revival?

This match perhaps came too soon for Benitez to whip Newcastle into shape, having only taken over from the sacked Steve McClaren on Friday.

The Magpies started like a team buoyed by the Spaniard’s appointment, engineering two chances early on – an iffy Wes Morgan nearly put Sissoko through, while Perez went close moments later.

Newcastle’s deep defensive line initially caused the hosts problems, but once Okazaki struck, the Foxes took control, attacking with pace and defending in packs.

Newcastle’s record of 24 points from 29 games is their lowest in Premier League history

There were hints that Benitez can revive a team which has struggled all season, but the former Liverpool boss – who nine weeks ago was in charge of Real Madrid, coaching Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale – has just nine games to save Newcastle from relegation.

Had Sissoko possessed the poise to find a team-mate when the visitors had a three-on-two advantage they could have equalised, while the Frenchman also sweetly struck a volley only to be denied late on by Morgan’s block.

Benitez had said he had “done the maths” and that he was positive of survival, but for that optimism to remain, the Magpies – who have now lost 17 of their 29 league matches – must beat fellow strugglers Sunderland on Sunday.

What next?

For Newcastle, the next two games are central to their survival hopes. They will host Sunderland in what should be a tasty derby as the Magpies are a point adrift of the Black Cats, who are clear of the relegation zone on goal difference only.

On 2 April, Benitez’s men will then travel to Norwich, another team who are a point ahead of them in the league, albeit having played a game more.

Leicester travel to Crystal Palace to face a side who have not won in the league in 2016 but have progressed to the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

This graphic shows the teams’ average positions during the match. Leicester’s back four remained compact, protected by N’Golo Kante, which allowed the rest of the team to play in the opposition’s half. Newcastle weren’t as tight in defence with their centre backs – Steven Taylor and Jamaal Lascelles – particularly struggling

Man of the match – N’Golo Kante

The Leicester midfielder covered more distance (11.82km) and completed more sprints (71) than any other player

What the managers said

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri: “It wasn’t the best performance from us but we showed fantastic spirit. We defended very well. It wasn’t nervy in the second half, the team was so close and compact.

Media playback is not supported on this device

Newcastle will be safe – Ranieri

“I feel now that I am just concentrating on the next game against Crystal Palace. We are so strong, we think only one game at a time. Step by step, that is our philosophy.

“Their players showed Rafa their attitude and the Newcastle players are very good. I am sure that they will be safe.”

Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez: “I wasn’t happy with the goal because there were too many balls bouncing in the box. I would like to think about the positives. We reacted well and were pushing well.

“I thought that we could get a result and I was convinced we could do it. But they worked really hard and are pushing and their tempo is not easy for any team.

Media playback is not supported on this device

Benitez confident of Newcastle survival

“We know our next game against Sunderland is a derby and it will be important for everyone but I have a feeling the fans are really good and they are the number 12 for the next game. We have plenty of things to do and they need to rest and work hard.”

The stats you need to know

  • Leicester have lost just one of their last 18 Premier League games at the King Power Stadium (W12 D5 L1).
  • Claudio Ranieri’s team have kept a clean sheet in six of their last seven Premier League home matches.
  • Leicester have scored in 27 Premier League games this season, more than any other team.
  • The Foxes have made just 25 changes to their starting XI this season, fewer than any other side.
  • This game was the 10th time this season that Ranieri had named an unchanged starting XI.
  • Leicester have won 12 games by a single goal this season, more than any other Premier League team.
  • The home side scored with their only shot on target of the game.

Powered By | Full Text RSS Feed

Everton to face Man Utd or West Ham

 Posted by at 3:02 AM
Mar 152016
West Ham boss Slaven Bilic (left) “fancies” his side to beat Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United in their replay

Everton will face either Manchester United or West Ham in the FA Cup semi-finals, while Crystal Palace will take on Watford in the last four.

The ties will be played on the weekend of April 23-24 at Wembley.

Manchester United will travel to Upton Park for a quarter-final replay after the sides drew 1-1 at Old Trafford.

The date of that last-eight replay will be announced after the second leg of United’s Europa League last-16 tie against Liverpool on Thursday.

The winner of that match will face an Everton team who beat Chelsea 2-0 on Saturday to reach the last four for the first time since 2012.

The other semi-final is a repeat of the 2013 Championship play-off final, which Palace won thanks to a Kevin Phillips penalty.

Watford, who knocked out holders Arsenal on Sunday, will attempt to reach the final for the first time since 1984, while Palace are through to their first FA Cup semi-final in 21 years.

Powered By | Full Text RSS Feed

Mar 152016

Media playback is not supported on this device

Costa’s coming together with Gareth Barry

Chelsea striker Diego Costa has been charged with improper conduct following his red card at Everton on Saturday.

The Spaniard was sent off after a clash with Everton midfielder Gareth Barry in the 84th minute of Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat at Goodison Park.

Costa, 27, appeared to bite Barry in the incident, although both players have denied that happened.

However, the Football Association has now charged Costa