RAFAEL BENITEZ will prioritise a new move for Fulham midfielder Tom Cairney during the January transfer window – whether Newcastle United are in new hands or not.

Takeover talk has become muted in the last couple of weeks, although Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners group is still understood to be involved in discussions aimed at assembling a consortium backed by Middle Eastern finance that will be capable of buying out Mike Ashley.

Staveley’s group has signed a non-disclosure agreement enabling them to conduct a forensic analysis of Newcastle’s books, but while all parties would ideally like a deal to be completed before the turn of the year, the timescale for such a development is becoming increasingly tight.

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That could mean Ashley remaining in charge throughout the January transfer window, and it remains to be seen whether the sportswear magnate will be willing to sanction significant spending if he has been unable to sell before the New Year.

Whoever is in charge, Benitez will be doing all he can to persuade those above him to support him in the transfer market, and Cairney is set to be one of his leading targets for the second transfer window in a row.

Newcastle made a number of approaches for the Fulham midfielder in the summer, but a bid of around £20m was rejected after Slavisa Jokanovic persuaded the Craven Cottage board to hold on to the Scotland international in order to enhance their club’s chances of mounting a viable promotion push.

Things haven’t panned out as planned in the opening three months of the season, however, with Fulham languishing in 17th position amid mounting speculation about Jokanovic’s job.

Promotion looks extremely unlikely, and Benitez will be urging Newcastle’s recruitment team to exploit Fulham’s indifferent form by tabling another offer for Cairney at the turn of the year.

The 26-year-old signed a contract extension in the summer that commits him to Fulham until 2021, but with the Cottagers seemingly set for at least another season in the Championship, the Craven Cottage hierarchy could opt to cash in.

Newcastle signed Mikel Merino in the summer, but with Jack Colback completely out of favour and likely to make a move of his own once the transfer window reopens, Benitez is keen to sign another central midfielder.

Ayoze Perez has spent much of the current campaign playing in the ‘number ten’ role despite not being ideally suited to the position, and with Mo Diame having underperformed during the recent 1-0 defeat at Burnley, there is clearly a need for more creativity in the central-midfield area.

Perez found himself omitted from the starting line-up for last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth, and having come on for the final 22 minutes, the Spaniard admits Newcastle underperformed for the second game in a row.

“In both games (Burnley and Bournemouth), we had moments,” said Perez. “We had control, but that was not enough. The games are 93 minutes long, we must play from the start right to the end.

“Any chance we get to score, we must take it. We did not do that against Burnley or Bournemouth. The control is not enough, we must be better at both ends of the pitch. We must focus on working on that and getting better.”

Christian Atsu limped out of Saturday’s game, with Benitez confirming he had suffered “a knock” in the closing stages. However, the winger has been passed fit to join up with the Ghana squad for Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Egypt.