By Editor Wayne Veysey| Former Evening Standard, Press Association and Goal chief correspondent with 17 years experience of breaking big stories, including exclusives like this

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Rafael Benitez is close to agreeing the terms of a three-year deal to become the new manager of Newcastle, Football Insider sources understand.

The former Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid boss is in advanced negotiations with the Premier League club to take over in time for Monday’s visit to leaders Leicester.

A well-placed source has told Football Insider that Benitez is in line to replace Steve McClaren, who will be sacked in the next 24 hours in the wake of a catastrophic run of results that has left the club second from bottom of the Premier League.

The Newcastle board have held off from sacking McClaren while they source a suitable replacement and identify who is willing to take over a team in the face of a relegation battle.

The top brass at St James’ Park, led by managing director Lee Charnley, are now confident they have that man in Benitez, who has been out of work since being sacked by Real in January.

McClaren is expected to be summoned to a meeting with Charnley on Thursday and told that his eight-month tenure is finished.

Spaniard Benitez is in line to be in charge by the time Newcastle play their next Premier League match, away to Leicester next Monday.

Newcastle chiefs are hopeful that by acting now they can stem the crisis that has engulfed the club in the wake of the weekend 3-1 home defeat to Bournemouth.

Despite three successive losses and just 24 points, Newcastle are still just two points from safety with ten games left to play.

Dead man walking: McClaren took training today despite intense speculation

Benitez has the calibre and track record to arrest the decline and get the best out of an underperforming squad that is rated as one of the best in the second half of the Premier League table.

He has an agreement in principle to sign a three-year contract, although it is not known if it will include a clause that he leaves if the club are demoted to the Championship.

McClaren has taken training in the last two days although the former England manager has told friends that he expects to be axed by the club.

Reports have indicated that the Newcastle players have already moved on from McClaren although the Magpies have strongly denied this.