Rafael Benitez began his reign as Newcastle United manager with Monday’s trip to table-topping Leicester City with a 1-0 defeat. There was no questioning the commitment of the visitors (which certainly isn’t something that can always be said of Newcastle this season) but, for all their endeavour, they didn’t offer a great deal of attacking threat.
The Spaniard’s first game in the home dug-out at St James’ Park is the small matter of the Tyne-Wear derby and a relegation six-pointer to boot. A win would of course be invaluable to both teams, but first and foremost it’s a game that neither can really afford to lose.
Recent history certainly favours the Black Cats, with it being six consecutive wins for Sunderland in this fixture, during which they’ve scored 13 goals and conceded just one.
Steve McClaren lost the Newcastle job due to poor results all season, with a run of just eight points out of a possible 36 prior to the trip to Leicester eventually sealing his fate. Newcastle have also struggled for goals all season, with their 28 from 29 league games only being better than Aston Villa. Take out the 6-2 drubbing of Norwich City, which was something of an outlier, and there is even less cause for optimism.
Sunderland have had two weeks to prepare for this game and with their next game not being until 2nd April due to the international break, all their attention will have been focused on this game. They certainly can’t have any complaints as to fatigue and fixture congestion.
The Black Cats have only won one of their last eight Premier League games, but they’ve collected four draws in that run too. As one would expect of any Sam Allardyce team, Sunderland are showing some fight. That is the least one would expect of Newcastle now too. Benitez has clearly been brought in for his ability to organize a team defensively, but Newcastle really need a few wins and he doesn’t have a great deal of experience when it comes to fighting relegation battles.
Benitez could have a few players available after injury, with Fabricio Coloccini, Chancel Mbemba, Cheick Tiote and Papiss Cisse all having some chance of featuring. Sunderland will hope to have Lee Cattermole and Jeremain Lens available.
After the initial adrenalin rush, this game could become quite niggly and a red card or two looks a distinct possibility. That could open the game up in the latter stages and makes the second-half look a reasonable bet for the most goals.