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Leicester City-Newcastle United Preview
It's been a challenging season for Newcastle United, who head into Saturday's clash against Leicester City at St.James' Park mired in a six-match winless slide in Premier League play.
The Magpies (4-3-8) find themselves in 15th place and 0-1-5 since beating Crystal Palace on Oct. 21. They are five points clear of the relegation zone, but need to stop this rot as quickly as possible.
Newcastle's best performance of the season likely came all the way back in August - a 3-0 victory over West Ham United - but it's a far cry from their current form, which has seen Rafael Benitez's side outscored 13-4 in the last six.
Last time out, the Magpies got off to a good start, but ultimately succumbed to a 3-1 loss to defending champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Dwight Gayle opened the scoring for the visitors on 12 minutes, but it wasn't enough as Eden Hazard hit for a brace to go with a third tally from Alvaro Morata.
Midfielder Mikel Merino conceded that Chelsea had far too much skill for the Magpies to handle.
"We started by scoring a goal, but in the end (Chelsea) have pace, ability and they won the match," he said.
Newcastle's next two matches are at St. James' Park, which represents an opportunity to collect points and further distance themselves from the bottom three. Three of the club's four wins this season have come at home.
Merino weighed in on his side's home performances.
"Playing at home is always an advantage for us. The strength of the crowd is important and I think with all the strength they give us we will improve," he said. "We know we have to keep working like this. We have to be patient and confident in our possibilities."
Leicester City (5-5-5) have lost once in their last nine league matches and head into the weekend looking for a third straight victory. This run of positive form has seen the Foxes rise to ninth place.
Last time out, Leicester claimed a 1-0 win over Burnley, despite only putting three shots on target. Demarai Gray's sixth-minute tally stood as the winner.
Leicester have had the better of the recent matches in this fixture, winning each of the last three Premier League meetings.
"We're going into a very busy period," defender Wes Morgan said. "December is a key month for a lot of teams. If we can pick up more wins than losses, it fires you right up the table. We've picked up some momentum going into this period and hopefully we can continue that through this month to get right into the top half of the table."
Morgan also emphasised the potential significance of an early goal against Newcastle.
"In general, you try and defend and you don't want to concede at any point," he said. "It's good that we seem to defend against Newcastle, especially away, because that's when they're at their strongest. Throughout the years, we've always done well up there.
"They're a team that if they get a goal, that gives them confidence and they'll try and build on that. We've seen signs of that in the earlier part of the season and that's something we have to be aware of. If we can keep them quiet in the first 20 minutes, I'm sure we'll do well."
Updated December 7, 2017