Premier League | St James' Park | Sun 21 Dec | 1:30pm
Don't mention horses – everybody's bored of that now.
- Spurs 4-0 Newcastle (LC)
- Arsenal 4-1 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 2-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Burnley 1-1 Newcastle (Prem)
- West Ham 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- S’land 1-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Liverpool 0-0 S’land (Prem)
- S’land 1-4 Man City (Prem)
- S’land 0-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Leicester 0-0 S’land (Prem)
Newcastle have been a difficult side to judge this season. Having won just one of their first nine matches of the season (both in the League Cup, one against League Two Gillingham), the Magpies then won six in a row. Having then lost their way by meekly losing to West Ham and drawing at Burnley, they beat previously unbeaten Chelsea. Since then, they've made two trips to north London and shipped eight goals – four in the league at Arsenal on Saturday, and four in the quarter-finals of the League Cup at Tottenham on Wednesday evening.
In the space of four months, they've managed to squeeze in spells of being far worse and far better than you'd expect, defying expectations at both end of the spectrum at every turn. The number of injuries they've suffered have even made their team selections tough to predict.
Sunderland, on the other hand, have pretty much just muddled along, floating around 15th place, roughly as you'd expect. Gus Poyet's side have only lost four of their 16 Premier League matches – the same number as West Ham (4th) and Arsenal (6th). The problem is that they've drawn 10, a number only surpassed by three clubs over the whole of last season.
The reason for this is that, bar the aberration at Southampton, their defensive record has been pretty impressive, while they've been largely blunt at the other end.
The nadir perhaps came against West Ham last week, when, rather than tapping the ball in at the far post, Jozy Altidore (69 Premier League appearances, two goals) decided to… kind of… somehow… sit on the ball instead.
With Newcastle massively under strength, and Sunderland massively underwhelming, this perhaps doesn't have the makings of a classic. Yet this particular derby is rarely tense to the point of tedium.
Sunderland's 3-0 victories on their previous two visits should give Newcastle enough motivation. They have a point to prove.
Newcastle are currently 'top' of the Premier League injury table, with 13 players nursing knocks over the last week. Sammy Ameobi, Cheick Tiote, Papiss Cisse and Mehdi Abeid should all be back in contention after missing the midweek defeat to Spurs, but Rob Elliot (hip), Tim Krul (foot), Ryan Taylor (knee), Siem de Jong (thigh) and Davide Santon (knee) will all miss out.
Rookie keeper Jak Alnwick (shoulder) joins Rolando Aarons (hamstring), Gabriel Obertan (thigh) and youngster Curtis Good (groin) in the 'doubt' column, which could mean the Magpies draft in another stopper on an emergency loan. Things could have been even worse, with star midfielder Moussa Sissoko limping out of the match at White Hart Lane with a knee injury, but the Frenchman should recover in time to face Sunderland.
The Black Cats' injury room is far less busy – the only long-term absentee is Patrick van Aanholt (shoulder), with Emanuele Giaccherini and Billy Jones both set to be back in contention, having returned to training last week.
Player to watch: Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle)
The French midfielder has become Newcastle's talisman in recent months, his powerful runs have troubled opposition midfields and defences for a few years now, with his passing in key areas also gradually improving.
Against QPR last month, he showed he is capable of the kind of killer attacking-third passes that can unlock a stubborn defence – creating three goalscoring openings – although on that afternoon it was Sissoko himself who scored the only goal of the game. Two weeks later against Chelsea, Sissoko was once again Newcastle's busiest passer in the attacking third, creating the Magpies' second goal in their 2-1 victory.
Shackling the athletic 25-year-old will be key to keeping the hosts quiet.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- N’castle 0-3 S’land (PL, Feb 14)
- S’land 2-1 N’castle (PL, Oct 13)
- N’castle 0-3 S’land (PL, Apr 13)
- S’land 1-1 N’castle (PL, Oct 12)
- N’castle 1-1 S’land (PL, Mar 12)
“I said to the players that at one point I was just absorbing what the fans were doing,” Newcastle boss Alan Pardew said after his team's 4-0 humbling at White Hart Lane. “They were with us all game. I purposely went at the end to thank them. Their support was magnificent. They all travelled to Arsenal, and saw us well beaten. They’ve travelled again and seen us well beaten. We really need to do our best to put a couple of difficult results behind us this season, and in the last three games against Sunderland. That was my sole message to prepare ourselves for Sunday – we have to make sure our fans go home with a performance that gives them a win.”
For his part, Sunderland manager Gus Poyet has used this moment to proclaim himself Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet. “I am a head coach,” the Uruguayan grumbled to the assembled press when asked whether he'd look to strengthen his squad in January. “I am not going to be a head coach when it suits and a manager when it doesn't. That side is down to recruitment.
“I want more quality. Do I think I'll get it? I don't know. You know what is missing. It is clear what we need to do. That is down to recruitment. So, if you ever get the chance to speak to anyone on the recruitment side and ask them about it, you are lucky. If you don't, don't ask me.”
This is the kind of power play that can badly backfire on his team should they lose embarrassingly to their fierce rivals...
Facts and figures
- The Black Cats have never won 4 successive league derbies against Newcastle.
- If matches ended a half-time this season, Newcastle would be bottom of the table with 12 points.
- Sunderland have scored 3 goals in the opening 5 minutes of Premier League games this season, more than any other side.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Look, we know we said this wouldn't be dull, but on reflection, maybe it will be... 1-1.
Back 1-1 at 11/2 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication.