WHEN Leicester City sacked Claude Puel in February, they considered approaching Rafael Benitez to be their new manager. Eventually, they settled on Brendan Rodgers instead, but last night, as his Newcastle side won at the King Power Stadium to all-but-guarantee their Premier League survival, Benitez showed Leicester’s Thai owners just what they missed. When it comes to delivering a tactical masterclass, they don’t come much better than the studious Spaniard.

Ayoze Perez’s first-half header secured Newcastle’s third away win of the season, taking the Magpies to the cherished 38-point mark, but this was a success built on the organisation and tactical clarity that Benitez has made his hallmark.

Leicester have been reborn under Rodgers, but while the Foxes went into last night’s game having won their four previous matches, they were successfully smothered by Newcastle’s well-drilled defence. Fabian Schar, Jamaal Lascelles and Paul Dummett did not put a foot wrong at the heart of the Magpies backline, Matt Ritchie continued his rich vein of recent form at left wing-back and Isaac Hayden marked James Maddison out of the game from his position at the base of midfield.

At the other end, Perez’s winner was a fitting reward for a characteristically industrious display, and both Miguel Almiron and Salomon Rondon had moments when they troubled the Leicester defence. Every Newcastle player knew their role, and they carried it out to the letter. They might not be mathematically safe, but it would take a truly remarkable set of results to see them crash out of the top-flight now.

With four more games to play, thoughts can begin to turn to the future, with Benitez’s contractual position more pressing than ever. The mood music in the last few days has turned slightly less positive, but Newcastle can ill afford to lose their manager. Even Mike Ashley must surely see that.

Whether Benitez remains in his current position or not, a major summer overhaul of the squad looks inevitable. Neither Jonjo Shelvey nor Mo Diame featured in last night’s starting line-up, and there has to be a good chance that neither player will remain on Newcastle’s books beyond the end of the summer.

Shelvey’s stock has sunk like a stone since he was being touted for England’s World Cup squad in the closing stages of last season, and it is now more than five months since he started a Premier League fixture. If West Ham United rekindle their long-standing interest, he will surely be on his way to the London Stadium.

Diame needs to make two more starts to trigger an automatic contract extension, but given that he has started just two games since New Year’s Day, that scenario is looking increasingly unlikely. Like Shelvey, it would now be a surprise if he was still on Newcastle’s books at the start of next season.

Throw in the likes of Rob Elliot, Karl Darlow, Christian Atsu and Joselu – squad players who have struggled for game time this season – and Kenedy, who will return to Chelsea when his loan expires, and you have the makings of a major summer exodus. It will be fascinating to see what type of player arrives to plug the gaps.

The other key summer decision facing Newcastle relates to Rondon, with Mike Ashley still extremely reluctant to offer a long-term contract to a player who will turn 30 in September.

Benitez is adamant he wants to keep Rondon, and while the West Brom striker might only have scored nine league goals this season, his contribution to Newcastle’s survival push has been invaluable.

He put in a typically selfless shift last night, battling gamely as a lone striker despite the physically-imposing attentions of Wes Morgan and Harry Maguire, and came within inches of handing Newcastle what would have been a spectacular lead on the quarter-hour mark.

Morgan fouled Perez 25 yards out, but Rondon seemed to be overly-ambitious as he lined up a direct strike from the resultant free-kick. The Venezuelan clearly knew what he was doing though, and with Kasper Schmeichel beaten, he cracked a fierce strike against the intersection of the crossbar and left-hand post.

Rondon’s ambition reflected Newcastle’s bright start, and the visitors carried a threat all night. Their approach was something of a Benitez template for away games, with their five-man defence sitting deep, ensuring Jamie Vardy was unable to break beyond them, their deep-lying midfielders sticking close to Leicester’s primary playmaker, Maddison, and both Perez and Almiron trying to break beyond Rondon whenever possible.

They allowed Leicester to dominate possession in the central third, but pressed relentlessly whenever the hosts threatened to break towards the penalty area and harried effectively at the other end to prevent the home defenders from being able to play out at will. As a result, they created a regular flow of chances.

Almiron tested Schmeichel after turning neatly in the box midway through the first half and Rondon tried his luck from close to the halfway line after the Foxes made a mess of trying to play out from defence.

It was far from one-way traffic, but while Leicester created chances of their own before the break, the hosts were unable to carve a clear pathway through the massed ranks of the Newcastle defence.

Martin Dubravka saved an early flicked volley from Vardy and got down well to parry a low effort from Ben Chilwell after the full-back broke into the box. The Newcastle goalkeeper was also called into action when Harvey Barnes burst into the area shortly before the half-hour mark, but when the deadlock was broken seven minutes later, the action came at the other end of the field.

Ritchie skipped past Ricardo Pereira to deliver a cross from the left, and Perez angled himself in front of Morgan to glance home a superb front-post header. It was the Spaniard’s eighth goal of the season, and reminiscent of others that he has scored in a Newcastle shirt. For a player whose lack of physicality is sometimes held against him, Perez has developed a happy knack of scoring crucial headed goals.

He still suffers from the occasional rush of blood, as evidenced by the incident at the start of the second half that saw him completely scuff his attempted shot at the heart of the penalty area, when Almiron looked to be in a much better position directly behind him. As a result, Rondon’s excellent driven cross went to waste.

Six minutes later, and it was Almiron’s turn to be wasteful, with the Paraguayan blazing over after Fabian Schar embarked on a dribble that took him past five opponents as he surged from one end of the pitch to the other.

Leicester’s second-half attacking was no more polished than their first, although Vardy passed up their one glorious chance of an equaliser with 11 minutes left. The England striker broke into the area to reach Youri Tielemans’ through ball, but scooped a first-time shot over the bar.