Match Previews

Newcastle vs Sunderland: What will and won’t happen

Premier League | St James' Park | Sun 20 Mar | 1.30pm | Sky Sports 1

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The biggest Tyne-Wear derby in years. This Premier League ain't big enough for the both of 'em.

The lowdown

"I don't like him and the feeling is probably mutual." Charming, but that's the truth of Sam Allardyce's relationship with Rafa Benitez. The pair have exchanged the sort of playground insults of which Donald Trump would be proud ever since Allardyce’s Bolton inflicted Benitez’s first league defeat as Liverpool boss, with Big Sam later suggesting that Rafa's Champions League triumph in Istanbul was down to pure luck. Benitez's response: “Do you know who Sam Allardyce is?”

Rafa doesn’t think much of Allardyce’s tactical approach, either. “The style of football, I think, Barcelona are thinking of copying,” he said once, with just a hint of sarcasm. Meow.

Sam Allardyce, Rafa Benitez

Allardyce enjoys a West Ham goal against Chelsea in 2012

Sadly for Benitez, Real Madrid fans decided they didn’t much like his own brand of football – winning 10-2 and 8-0 just wasn’t enough – and he now goes into his second match as Newcastle boss looking to end a run of six straight defeats for the Magpies in Tyne-Wear derbies.

The roles are reversed this time because curiously, four of those six Sunderland wins came in the second match under their own newly appointed manager. First Paolo Di Canio, then Gus Poyet, then Dick Advocaat, then Allardyce, who once lasted only eight months as Newcastle boss and manages the Black Cats at St James’ Park for the first time this weekend.

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Rafa Benitez

"Just me entering the knobbly knees contest? Fine"

With the pack pulling away and the hopeless Aston Villa finding new ways to make relegation even more inevitable, two of Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland seem set to be playing Championship football next season. In other words, at least one of Newcastle and Sunderland will go down. Victory for either club here could be a huge leap towards survival.

Facts and figures

  • Sunderland have won the last 6 Tyne-Wear derbies in league competition – their best-ever run against Newcastle.
  • Jermain Defoe has scored 7 goals in his last 8 away league games.
  • Sunderland have shipped 38 goals away this season, the most of any team in the Premier League.
  • Sunderland scored with all 3 shots on target in October’s home win over Newcastle.
  • The Black Cats have won just 3 of their last 26 Premier League away matches (W3 D8 L15).
  • Newcastle have scored just 1 goal in their last 627 minutes against Sunderland.
  • Sunderland have beaten Newcastle more times than they have any other opponent in the Premier League (9).
  • Rafa Benitez has not lost his opening home league match as manager at any of his last six clubs (W5 D1).
  • The only opposition manager that Benitez has beaten more often in the Premier League than Sam Allardyce (7) is David Moyes (10).
  • Fabio Borini has scored more goals against Newcastle in the Premier League than versus any other opponent (3) and has scored in both of his Premier League apps for Sunderland against the Magpies.

Team news

Adam Johnson opened the scoring when these sides met earlier in the season but he definitely won’t be playing this time. John O’Shea is pushing for a start after appearing as a sub in the Black Cats’ last match following a calf problem, while Lee Cattermole could come into contention after concussion.

Andros Townsend came off the bench for Newcastle at Leicester on Monday after a hamstring injury, and may start. Fabricio Coloccini (calf) will be assessed after missing that match.

Andros Townsend

Townsend couldn't help the Toon avoid defeat at Leicester

Key battle: Jonjo Shelvey vs Yann M’Vila

Newcastle’s Terry Alderton lookalike can lurch from the brilliant to the bumbling – a match-winner one game, a liability the next. Shelvey’s tendency to search for the Hollywood ball is the biggest explanation for this – not every pass of that nature can come off, so sometimes they’ll be defence-splitters, other times a hopeless waste of possession. Shelvey completed 37 of 48 passes at Leicester on Monday, but fewer than 50% (7 of 15) in the final third – and his only successful long passes were sideways or backwards.

French midfielder M’Vila has been one of the successes of a difficult season for Sunderland, although his own distribution wasn’t great in the Black Cats’ last match, giving the ball away 17 times in 41 attempted passes. Both players could have a big impact on this game if they produce the form they are capable of – and a rather different impact if they produce the poor play they’re sometimes guilty of.

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What won’t happen

A 5-4 thriller featuring high quality, exhibition football – prompting Rafa and Big Sam to lace daisies into each other's hair, congratulate each other on a fine sporting occasion and realise that they loved each other all along.

What will happen

A few managerial jibes and a tense match low on skill, potentially decided by a defensive error. If not, 0-0.

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