RECAP: O'Shea or Kaboul? Will Shelvey prove decisive? Your Newcastle v Sunderland questions answered

Sunderland writer Chris Young and Newcastle United writer Miles Starforth went head-to-head in our live Q&A ahead of the Tyne-Wear derby.

Thursday, 17th March 2016, 12:38 pm
Updated Thursday, 17th March 2016, 12:41 pm
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce

Newcastle, under the guidance of new manager Rafa Benitez, host Sam Allardyce's Sunderland side at St James's Park at 1.30pm on Sunday - with both sides battling against relegation to the Championship.

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez

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Ahead of the game - dubbed the biggest Tyne-Wear derby in a generation - we held a live Q&A with our Sunderland and Newcastle writers.

Here are the highlights:

Huge game Sunday - as big as they come - but is this the biggest ever fixture between the two sides?

CY: It is in terms of finance with the new television deal on offer to PL sides next season. With both clubs in such a precarious situation, I think you have to say it's the biggest derby since the 1990 play-offs.

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez

It's not winner-takes-all with another eight games to go. But psychologically, it would be a huge result for the winners.

MS: Not really, though it'll be interesting to see what tone Allardyce strikes towards Benitez at his presser tomorrow morning.

I'd imagine he'll bite his tongue. Benitez's presser is in the afternoon.

Can Sunderland get a result at St James's Park?

MS: Sadly from an NUFC perspective, recent history tells us that wouldn't be a surprise.

And had McClaren still been in charge, I think most NUFC fans would fear the worse.

Maybe, just maybe, that run can end under Benitez.

Do you think Sunderland can still stay up even if they lose on Sunday. Gap would be two points?

CY: I do tend to think that a draw is a better result for SAFC than NUFC.

SAFC have been playing well recently and NUFC desperately need to generate some momentum under Benitez.

I don't think SAFC would be down if they lose though. The games at Norwich next month for both NE clubs are equally important.

Chris, what team would you pick and would you start Dame N'Doye again?

CY: No, I'd put Defoe in ahead of N'Doye and I think that will happen.

The big decision facing Allardyce is whether Kaboul or John O'Shea partners Kone in central defence. There's a case to be made for both.

Did you see enough of an improvement against Leicester to suggest Newcastle can get out of trouble?

MS: There was a significant improvement at Leicester, but underlying issues remain.

Just where are the goals going to come from? And can Benitez tighten the defence?

The lack of goals is the biggest concern. Mitrovic is better with his back to goal than facing it. NUFC need goals to stay up. Right now, I don't know where they're coming from.

How will Sam Allardyce approach the game? All-out attack or a more cautious approach?

CY: Having watched that Leicester game, I agree with Miles over the lack of goals from NUFC. They just didn't look like scoring for all the huff and puff.

Given Sunderland's inability to keep a clean sheet, I think Allardyce has to look to score. When I look at Defoe, I just wonder whether he is the potential match-winner.

He's the only natural finisher on either side.

Miles, who should Rafa Benitez start up front against Sunderland? And is it time to drop Sissoko?

MS: Tough one. Benitez needs to change things up front. Does he drop Mitrovic? Or play Perez alongside him? Something needs to change.

You can even make a case for Perez playing up front on his own, as happened early last season.

As for Sissoko, he was much, much better against Leicester, but I can't remember him having a good derby. Still, I think he should start.

Chris, would you keep faith with Jack Rodwell in the middle or drop him and recall Seb Larsson for the derby?

CY: Tough one. Larsson has the experience of these games having featured in all 6 wins and would add the industry and fight which is required to triumph in a derby.

But I do think Rodwell has done alright in the last two games and given a better balance to the midfield.

I'd probably stick with him.

Will defensive frailties prove decisive?

MS: Still waiting for news on Coloccini's fitness, but it's hard to see NUFC keeping a clean sheet. That said, NUFC had a much better shape against Leicester, and they limited their chances.

I think NUFC will be better defensively under Benitez, but think both teams will score.

CY: Likewise, I struggle to see SAFC suddenly breaking their four-month wait for a clean sheet in this one.

SAFC have been better at the back since the arrival of Kone and Kirchhoff, but they're still prone to the defensive clanger.

It's going to be which of two poor defences stands firmest that decides things.

And finally, a prediction?

CY: I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up 1-1. I think both teams will score.

MS: Not going to tempt fate and predict a NUFC win, but I think/hope SAFC's winning run will end one way or another.