City’s first home opponents Newcastle stuck in limbo as Benitez leaves

Rafa Benitez is set to leave Newcastle United Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA

Rafa Benitez is set to leave Newcastle United Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA - Credit: PA

Pre-season preparations have been thrown into chaos at Newcastle United by the announcement of Rafa Benitez’s imminent exit, with the Magpies set to be Norwich City’s first home opponents of the season.

The former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss will leave Newcastle when his contract expires at the end of this week, the club have announced today.

The Magpies are due to open their campaign at home to Arsenal on Sunday, August 11 and then travel to Carrow Road for their first away game of the Premier League season the following Saturday.

MORE: Norwich City 2019-20 fixtures

Benitez, 59, has spent just over three years in charge at St James' Park since replacing Steve McClaren in March 2016, leading the north-east club to the Championship title in 2017 and then two seasons of mid-table safety in the top flight despite continuing displeasure from fans about the way owner Mike Ashley was running the club.

A statement on Newcastle's official website this lunchtime said: "It is with disappointment that we announce manager Rafael Benitez will leave Newcastle United upon the expiry of his contract on 30th June 2019.

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"We have worked hard to extend Rafa's contract over a significant period of time, however it has not been - and will not be - possible to reach an agreement with Rafa and his representatives."

Newcastle confirmed Benitez's coaching staff, Paco de Miguel Moreno, Antonio Gomez Perez and Mikel Antia, will also leave the club.

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"We would like to thank Rafa and his coaching team for their efforts over the last three years and their significant contribution to what has been collectively achieved," the Magpies added.

"We would also like to thank our supporters, players and staff for their patience during a period of uncertainty. The process to appoint a successor will now begin."

The announcement arrives amid uncertainty about a £350million takeover which has been rumbling on in recent months, with talks said to have started with several interested parties, including the wealthy Bin Zayed Group, the company of Abu Dhabi royal family member Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan.

Newcastle haven't won at Carrow Road since 1994, when Peter Beardsley and Andy Cole earned a 2-1 win. The Magpies haven't won any of their previous seven attempts, all but one of which was in the top flight, with City winning four of those games.

The loss of a hugely popular manager will no doubt spark fears of a relegation fight for Magpies fans, which could also benefit the Canaries' hopes of survival.

Manchester City coach Mikel Arteta is leading the early betting odds to be Benitez's replacement, with former Norwich boss Chris Hughton also in the mix for a second stint at Newcastle.

- Next Newcastle permanent manager (Paddy Power)

Mikel Arteta 5/1

Chris Hughton 7/1

Jose Mourinho 7/1

Garry Monk 8/1

Eddie Howe 10/1

Steven Gerrard 12/1

Roy Keane 14/1

Alan Pardew 14/1

Gennaro Gattuso 14/1

Mark Hughes 16/1

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