IT WAS only three years ago when Leicester City were Premier League champions; Newcastle United last lifted the top-flight title back in 1927.

Rafa Benitez admits Newcastle United are still a long way behind the Foxes in the pecking order in more ways than one.

The Magpies go to the King Power Stadium this evening, to face a side buoyed by the influence of Brendan Rodgers, who took over from Claude Puel at the end of February.

Since then, he’s led his side to four successive victories going into tonight’s encounter.

Benitez – who admitted he is no further forward with the club’s hierarchy when it comes to a new contract with both parties still in negotiations – feels his club is trailing behind the established Foxes squad.

"Obviously, you see the prices of the market now. If you want to sign any player who is at Leicester now, think how much it is going to cost,’’ he reflected.

"And obviously you are asking me to compare, and it is not easy to do that [catch up] in one year.

"If you look at them, they were champions three years ago, they have a good team now, and the future is looking good for them. What they have now is a very good team. They won the league three years ago, players with that experience, good young players, good internationals, and three young English players. It's a strong."

Benitez added: “Brendan has done well, they were already a good team. They change the manager to bring in a manager who knows the players and league. When you win the next game is good as you have more confidence, they are doing well and it will be a tough game for us.’’

And Benitez has used the example of how he turned around Napoli to indicate what he could do with the Magpies.

After leaving a temporary stint at Chelsea, Benitez spent two years in Italy with Napoli.

There he was able to sell players for profit and reinvest in the squad to being success and lay a platform for the future.

He mused: “We have to plan and imagine anything. At the end of the season we can be in the Premier League or in the Championship.

“The priority is focus on staying in the Premier League. We concentrate on games and we will try and do what we have to do. Once we are safe then we look at what we can do.’’

“The debate is quite simple – we have to buy good players. When I signed at Napoli the President had an ambition to improve and go to Europe every year.

“So we sign Reina, Albiol, Mertens, Callejon, Higuain with the money from selling Cavani for around £60m.

“The next year we signed Jorginho and others. Selling two players for a massive profit, we take £140m back and changed the squad again. We have guaranteed the last four years to be in the Champions League or the Europa League.

“When you have the potential to do that, see what can be done. It is what we are looking for. We manage what we have.’’

He added: "If you want to win something, if you want to win trophies, then in my experience you need experience - or you could have all the best young players in the world, but we cannot [have that].

"You need experience, and at the same time you need the energy levels and determination, and the hunger that the young players have.

"When I arrived at Napoli, the president came to see me and said: 'We will sell Cavani.' We sold him for around £60m to PSG, then we reinvested the money to make a team who could compete in Europe.

"He had this vision, and he did it really well. For around £60m we signed Reina, Higuain, Callejon, Mertens and Albiol. Afterwards we signed younger players - and then we built a team.

"Eventually they sold Jorginho for £57m, and Higuain for £90m. Just with these two players we doubled the money. It's about finding the balance between profit and investing.

"Now that club has had four years or more in the Champions League."

Of his current squad, while he has no-one in the £60m bracket of Cavani to engineer change, he said: "We have some experience and some youngsters. The balance is good. We are more or less fine.

"Now what you have to do, if you have got to replace some players with the right quality, you will increase the level and you have to keep the balance."

Of his own contract saga, he said: “We are in the same position, exactly the same. I am waiting for answers. When you have negotiations you have to talk, then they give you this or that, it’s just part of the normal Brexit talks!’’

Mo Diame is fit and available this evening, but Florian Lejeune is out for the long-term and is facing a knee operation.

Benitez said: “Hopefully it will be between four and five months if everything is fine. But you have to wait and see what the surgeon is saying. It’s bad luck.

“His is positive about his recovery. I was in contact with him this week and we talked today here.

“We now decide… the last time he was injured, he would normally go to Rome. He did really well and was fine in four months when it is normally six or seven months.

“He is really unlucky the other knee has the same injury and we hope for a good operation and he will be back in four or five months.’’