RAFAEL BENITEZ will be told he does not have to sell in January – even if some of the Premier League big boys come calling with massive offers for his stars of the Championship.

Chelsea have started to keep a close eye on Magpies skipper Jamaal Lascelles and are even weighing up an offer when the transfer window opens in the new year.

It has been claimed the Blues, who are known to have been represented at a strong of Newcastle games this season, are weighing up an £18m bid for the centre-back.

But Benitez will be under no pressure to sell so long as Newcastle remain firmly in the hunt for an automatic promotion place.

Newcastle are three points clear of second-placed Brighton and are a further three ahead of the play-off zone in their pursuit of an immediate return to the Premier League.

And Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is happy with the financial position at St James’ Park after a summer of hectic transfer business which actually ended with the club making a profit.

Ashley is keen for Benitez, who has transformed the atmosphere on Tyneside and inside St James’ Park, to continue the good work he has started.

That means there will be no pressure placed on him to sell in January if he doesn’t want to and there will be a fresh look at ways to improve the club in the summer if promotion is achieved.

Lascelles has been an important member of the Newcastle team in the Championship and was handed the captaincy by Benitez after showing signs of leadership in the final eight games of last season’s relegation battle.

He was part of a £7m joint deal along with Karl Darlow in 2014 from Nottingham Forest, where he moved back on loan for a season, and has developed into a commanding centre-back.

Lascelles had a couple of shaky moments at the start of the season after being handed the captaincy but has grown into the role. He has performed well whether it has been alongside Ciaran Clark, Grant Hanley or Chancel Mbemba.

Benitez is determined to establish Newcastle as a top-flight force and he would only listen to offers for his players if he felt that he had better men lined up. Lascelles is seen as an important member of the squad.

Newcastle won for the seventh game in a row at Preston on Saturday when the victory was slightly tempered by a fifth yellow card picked up by winger Matt Ritchie.

The Scotland international has impressed since his £12m move from Bournemouth but Benitez has formed a squad which he feels can cope with missing players through suspension.

He will be looking for Christian Atsu to have a positive impact in his absence, in a similar way to that which Aleksandar Mitrovic has taken over scoring duties from the injured Dwight Gayle. It is hoped Gayle will be fit again for this Saturday’s visit of Cardiff City.

Newcastle forward Sammy Ameobi, meanwhile, has been challenged again to prove he can handle the strains of a full season.

Ameobi, 24, is now on loan in League One with Bolton and he helped them to a 3-1 win over Port Vale on Saturday. He has made seven starts since joining the Trotters and scored twice, but he is still being asked to find greater consistency.

Steve Parkin, Bolton’s assistant manager, said: “The lad is a talent, there’s no doubt about that. He just needs a run in the team and to be given a chance. I think we’ve done that for him.

“We’ve reiterated to him in training how important it is to work on his fitness so he can play full games, or certainly 70 or 80 minutes. He’s worked really hard at that. His levels and figures in training are very good and he’s a talented lad. He must be very difficult to mark.”

Ameobi’s loan terms at the Macron Stadium only run until January and he will become a free agent at Newcastle next summer.