Sunday's North East derby will have huge implications in the battle for survival.
Basement battles don’t get much bigger than this Tyne-Wear derby between two closely matched teams, with it almost certain that one of these two sides will be demoted at the end of the season. Add in that it’s a first home game in charge for Rafa Benitez and a very one-sided recent record in these meetings and we have all the makings for a very tense affair.
Newcastle were beaten at the leaders on Monday and while Leicester didn’t put them under too much pressure the Magpies offered little threat of their own. Generally when an opening did present itself they were looking to pass rather than pull the trigger and if Benitez is to mastermind a recovery he will need to find a way of building up his players’ confidence. Sunderland, meanwhile, have had a fortnight off and should be raring to go.
Benitez has faced Big Sam as the home manager in six previous Premier League matches and he’s won the lot of them while conceding just one goal. So now he just needs to get Newcastle to play like Liverpool or Chelsea. The Toon have scored in five of their six home matches against the current bottom half this season – and the one failure was against an Everton side that should probably still finish in the top half.
Given Sunderland have kept just one clean sheet on the road all season it would be reasonable to expect the home side to score, but since Newcastle did lose half the aforementioned six matches, and Sunderland have scored in nine of their last 10 away games, both teams to score is probably a more accurate prediction.
However, form has a habit of going out the window in these matches and while head to head stats can often be misleading everyone in black and white is going to be painfully aware that they’ve lost the last six against their rivals. In all those matches Newcastle went in as the higher placed side so can they reverse the trend now they are looking up at Sunderland?
Both teams have scored in 10 of Sunderland’s last 13 matches and seven of their last 10 away games have had at least four goals. The addition of Wahbi Khazri in January has certainly given the attack a boost as they’ve scored seven times in his five starts while Jermain Defoe has scored seven times in 10 games in 2016. Further evidence of their improvement under Big Sam is that they’ve lost just three of their last 10 matches and those were against three of the current top five while they have a record of W4-D1-L0 against the current bottom six since he took over.
We certainly can’t have Newcastle as short as 2.2 to win this match and with the Mackems showing more confidence would back them at 1.75 on the Double Chance. However, our standout selection is for both teams to score.
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