By support

22nd May, 2017 | 2:04pm

Ranieri: This is where Newcastle will finish in the Premier League next season

By Matt Farr

Former Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri believes Newcastle can achieve a top-half finish in the Premier League next season.

Newcastle earned immediate promotion back to the top flight following their one-year absence, having lifted the Championship title earlier this month.

The Magpies will be well aware of the challenge they face to retain their Premier League status next season, given their long history in the top flight, and Ranieri does not believe relegation will pose much of an issue.

Ranieri, who was sacked by Leicester in February, backed Rafa Benitez’s side to achieve at least a mid-table finish during the 2017-18 campaign, but refused to rule out a surge into the top-half.

He told Sky Sports 1’s ‘Goals on Sunday’ programme yesterday: “I was surprised [Benitez stayed] but he believed they would be promoted.

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“He now knows that everyone is behind him and I think he can do a very good job next season. Newcastle can be between the middle and high positions. They have fantastic fans and I think he can achieve this.”

Ex-Premier League midfielder Danny Murphy, on the other hand, admitted he would not be surprised if Newcastle failed to finish above promoted rivals Brighton next term.

The challenge with Brighton, meanwhile, would not likely be for a place in the top-half, as Ranieri suggests.

But Newcastle must take into account the fierce competitiveness of the Premier League, having watched Middlesbrough and Hull both drop back down into the Championship after just one season in the top flight.

Benitez is more than capable of masterminding a top-half finish for Newcastle, particularly after he was given the financial backing of the club’s owner Mike Ashley in the summer transfer market.

The Spaniard will now set about making the necessary changes and upgrades to his first-team squad in order to build a side that can compete alongside the elite next season.

In other Newcastle news, a reliable journalist has revealed the club are plotting a swoop for this £30million-plus Premier League winning ace.

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