This Sunday’s derby is about Sunderland holding their nerve.
With Newcastle losing – as expected – to Leicester, Sunderland now need only to match or better Newcastle’s results to finish above them. That will leave the final relegation spot for either us or Norwich.
Sunderland must use Benitez’s first home game to their advantage, remain compact, understand that they don’t need to chase the game and take any opportunities that present themselves.
A draw will suit us; Newcastle however will feel that this is a derby they simply must win at all costs. I expect Newcastle to go out all guns blazing, roared on by their fans.
This should play into the hands of Sunderland who have the players to cause maximum damage on the break, primarily through the likes of Khazri, Borini and to a lesser extent PVA.
Sunderland can and must exploit the space left by Newcastle’s advancing full-backs. This will pull Newcastle’s centre backs into wide positions in an attempt to cover, giving the likes of Defoe some space to inflict maximum damage.
My concern is that Sunderland will concede early. This will play into the hands of Newcastle who will then be able to sit back and control the tempo of the game.
Sunderland have also shown time and time again this season that they are particularly vulnerable to conceding a couple of goals in quick succession. It will be important for the older more experienced players to shore things up, remain compact and weather the storm if Newcastle manage to breach Mannone’s goal.
In summary, I want to see bravery from Sunderland’s players. Our creative players must want the ball and our defence and holding midfielders must show discipline for 90 minutes. Derby day would also be the perfect time to achieve that elusive clean sheet.
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