Competition: Premier League – Newcastle vs. Sunderland
Venue: St James’ Park – Sunday, March 20 – 13:30 GMT (09:30 ET)
Match Odds: Newcastle 11/10 – Draw 23/10 – Sunderland 5/2
Newcastle host Sunderland in what is set to be one of the most important Tyne-Wear derbies in the Premier League era. Both sides are fighting relegation and this is as big a six-pointer as you could see.
Newcastle started life under new manager Rafa Benitez with a 1-0 loss to Leicester last Monday, but there were positives from their performance and the Spaniard will hope his side can now build on that display with a crucial win over their local rivals.
A win against any side would be huge for Newcastle – who sit 19th in the table – but a win against fellow relegation strugglers and fierce rivals means this is undoubtedly the biggest game of the Magpies season.Embed from Getty Images
They have lost their last six meeting with the Black Cats and must try and get the crowd behind them early. The Magpies have only lost one of their last four at home in the league and that’s a positive heading into this game.
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce will face up against Rafa Benitez once again but with an enormous amount at stake, all attentions will be on what takes place on the field, rather than in the dugouts.
The Black Cats have been in relatively good form of late and enter the weekend outside the bottom three. They have only lost one of their last five and will be desperate to avoid defeat at St James’ Park on Sunday afternoon.
One major problem for Sunderland is their defence. They haven’t kept a clean sheet in 15 consecutive league outings and that will be a concern for Allardyce and his team.Embed from Getty Images
The reverse fixture ended 3-0 to Sunderland back in October in what was Allardyce’s first home game. But now Benitez will be hoping his first home game will reap similar rewards.
This is sure to be a fiery clash between two sides fighting for their lives. You don’t want to miss this.
Rafa Benitez might name an unchanged team to the side that lost at Leicester on Monday. The new manager has 12 injury concerns heading into his first home game, with Chancel Mbemba the only player on the injury list in contention to recover. He will face a late fitness test but Paul Dummett, Cheick Tiote, Fabricio Coloccini, Sylvain Marveaux, Curtis Good, Kevin Mbabu, Papiss Cisse, Massadio Haidara, Gabriel Obertan, Ivan Toney and Tim Krul are all still sidelined.
Sunderland have much less to worry about on the injury front, with Duncan Watmore the only player certain to miss the game. Emmanuel Eboue is unlikely to feature as he continues to build up fitness, while Wahbi Khazri, Jermain Defoe, Jeremain Lens and Lee Cattermole are also doubts but should recover in time to play.
Newcastle’s last five: W/L/L/L/L
Sunderland’s last five: D/W/L/D/D
Key Stat: Sunderland have won each of the last six Tyne-Wear derbies in the Premier League – the best ever winning streak in this derby by either club.
Key Player: Jermain Defoe – The Sunderland striker has netted seven goals in his last eight league games away from home and will be tasked with firing the Black Cats to victory at St James’ Park on Sunday. He proved to be dangerous against Newcastle last season and will be out to hurt them once again here.Embed from Getty Images
Newcastle 2-1 Sunderland – This is a colossal game for both sides, but you’d have to say Newcastle need the win more for two reasons: They are playing at home, and are 19th in the table, a point behind Sunderland who sit in 17th. A draw will likely keep Sunderland outside the bottom three, depending on the Norwich result, and they will set up to avoid defeat. But Newcastle looked much better against Leicester and need to show the fight and desire that Benitez will demand if they are to win this game and subsequently stay up. Narrow home win.