Sunday 20th March – 13:30 – St. James’ Park
Some people are calling this the biggest Tyne-Wear derby of recent times, with both Newcastle and Sunderland right in the middle of a relegation battle. The Magpies (19th), who recently replaced Steve McClaren with Rafa Benitez are four points from safety after losing 1-0 to league leaders Leicester City in the Spaniard’s first game in charge. The Black Cats (18th), who have played one game more than their rivals, are three points away from 17th placed Norwich – who beat West Brom on Saturday to make this derby even bigger. Sam Allardyce’s side drew 1-1 with Southampton last time out, but will be hoping to get back to winning ways and continue their fine form in this fixture having won the last six league meetings between the sides. The two games before that finished as draws, meaning the visitors are eight games unbeaten against Newcastle. Since the Magpies last won a derby game in August 2011, the sides have had 11 managers a between them – a sign of the troubled times football in the North East has seen recently.
- Chancel Mbemba is back in training and could feature but fellow centre-back and captain Fabricio Coloccini remains very doubtful with a calf injury.
- Striker Papiss Cisse might be involved for the first time since December after overcoming a groin problem, whilst Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux are back in training.
- Massadio Haidara, Tim Krul (both knee) and Paul Dummett (hamstring) are sidelined.
- The Black Cats have a near full-strength squad, with Jeremain Lens and Lee Cattermole back from groin and eye injuries respectively.
- Jermain Defoe has also returned to training after suffering a minor calf strain and will be available.
- New signing Emmanuel Eboue has been ruled out with a hamstring injury, whilst Duncan Watmore is also sidelined with an ankle problem.
The Key Battle: Rafa Benitez vs Sam Allardyce
This derby was going to be feisty enough already, but add into the fact that the clubs now have managers who have a bit of history themselves, and we could be set for fireworks on Sunday.
Sam Allardyce suggested in his autobiography that Rafa Benitez had little to do with Liverpool’s remarkable 2005 Champions League final success, with the Spaniard in return asking what ‘Big Sam’ had ever won.
Benitez began the season in charge at Real Madrid, so it was perhaps a surprise to see him turn up at Newcastle last week. His first game in charge was a 1-0 loss to leaders Leicester, but he’ll have high hopes for his first game at St. James’ Park.
The 55 year old has not lost his opening home league match as manager at any of his last six clubs (W5, D1), whilst the only opposition manager that Benitez has beaten more often in the Premier League than Sam Allardyce (7) is David Moyes (10).
Allardyce meanwhile got his first win as Sunderland boss against Newcastle last October, a club he managed between 2007 and 2008. What’s for sure though is that both bosses have big tasks ahead of them to avoid their clubs getting relegated to the Championship.
Newcastle United wins = 53 / Sunderland wins = 53 / Draws = 49
*According to en.wikipedia.org
Last Meeting: Sunderland 6-0 Newcastle United (27th January 2016)
The last competitive meeting between these rivals finished 3-0 to Sunderland in October, but back in January, a behind closed doors friendly took place, which I only found out about through doing research for this article. Duncan Watmore scored a hat-trick as Sunderland won 6-0. Steven Fletcher scored twice and Jack Rodwell was also on target for a strong Black Cats side in a game arranged to maintain fitness with neither team in the FA Cup fourth round that weekend. [Read full Sky Sports report]
Rafa Benitez: “We know every game between now and the end of the season is important, but especially this one. The fans are crucial for us. We have to stick together and be sure that every fan can help the players on the pitch.”
Sam Allardyce: This is about players, it’s not about me against Rafa. It’s about preparing the players the best we possibly can, physically and mentally. It’s a massive derby, obviously. They are always huge but this is even bigger.”
The Referee – Martin Atkinson
- Last Premier League game: Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City (2nd March 2016) – 1 yellow card, o red cards
- Last Newcastle United game: Newcastle United 1-1 Aston Villa (19th December 2015) – 4 yellow cards, 0 red cards
- Last Sunderland game: Arsenal 3-1 Sunderland (9th January 2016) – 1 yellow card, 0 red cards
2015-16 Record: Games = 38 / Yellow cards = 138 / Red cards = 1 / Penalties = 4
Infographic (courtesy of Sporticos)
Stat of the Match
Newcastle have managed to score just one goal in their last 627 minutes of football against Sunderland, but the Black Cats have conceded 38 goals away from home this season, the most of any team in the Premier League.
Where Can I Watch It?
The game is being shown live on Sky Sports 1 on Sunday from 12:30pm, with kick-off an hour later. The highlights will then be on BBC One’s Match of the Day 2 that evening at 10:30pm.
My Prediction: Newcastle United 1-1 Sunderland
I thought that Newcastle gave a good account of themselves against Leicester on Monday, and Rafa Benitez will be looking to kick on in the derby. But Sunderland are also showing signs of improvement, and will be boosted by their recent record in this fixture. For that reason I’m going to predict a 1-1 draw that will do neither side any good and keep the battle at the bottom nerve-wracking and entertaining. Goals from Andros Townsend and Dame N’Doye.