The Tyne-Wear derby is one of the fiercest derbies in English football, and will take place at the Stadium of Light this afternoon with a lot on the line.
Gus Poyet has replaced Paolo Di Canio in the home side’s hotseat, and will be thrown in at the deep end in his first home match in charge of the side.
The Wearside club are rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table with a solitary point from their opening eight games. They have scored the fewest goals in the division, conceded the most and look like a club destined for a long, hard season.
Newcastle arrive in indifferent form. Alan Pardew’s charges are seemingly capable of taking it to the best teams in the division if in the mood, but are blighted by inconsistency.
A few key areas will decide the fixture, with a blood and thunder clash, as always, in the offing.
The midfield battle will be critical, and could be enthralling viewing. Lee Cattermole has been brought back into the Sunderland side after being chastised by Di Canio, and will once more act as the talisman for the Tyneside team. He will be directly up against Cheick Tioté, who had a good game last week against Liverpool.
Both players have the ability and desire to inspire their team-mates and respective fans through their actions. Both also have the rashness to get sent off and cost their side the game. Their personal battle will dictate which side has the lion’s share of the ball, with the winner giving his side a psychological edge.
Alongside the battlers are more technical midfielders able to win the game through their ability. Both sides are likely to have three in the centre of the pitch, with Yohan Cabaye and Moussa Sissoko up against Sebastian Larsson and Craig Gardner.
Any one of these four players is capable of a moment of magic, and Cabaye in particular is a man in form.
Newcastle come into the game with defensive injury concerns, and are down to the bare bones at centre-half. With captain Fabricio Coloccini, talisman Steven Taylor and the suspended Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa all unavailable, two unassuming characters will marshal the visitors’ backline.
Mike Williamson will be joined by homegrown talent Paul Dummett in the heart of the Newcastle defence, and Steven Fletcher will look to take advantage of his opponents’ injury blows.
Dummett in particular is an interesting inclusion; usually a full-back, the 22-year-old played out of position at centre-half against Liverpool, and put in a commanding performance. Newcastle born and bred, Dummett will need no reminding how important the game is to the travelling support.
At the other end, one of Poyet’s main issues he needs to fix is a leaking rearguard. Sunderland have shipped 20 goals this term already, and the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa and Loïc Rémy will look to significantly increase that number today.
John O’Shea is an important man at the heart of the home defence, and will need to organise other less experienced campaigners alongside him.
Newcastle will most likely persist with playing Ben Arfa through the middle in a false nine role of sorts, with Rémy, Cabaye and Yoan Gouffran feeding off the talented playmaker. The communication in the Sunderland defence and midfield to limit Ben Arfa’s space could well be a telling factor in the outcome of the game.
Sunderland need a morale-boosting win and after six consecutive Premier League defeats need to stop the rot. Three points would take them off the bottom; defeat would maintain an already significant seven-point gap to safety.
Newcastle will be keen to add to their rivals’ misery, and can move equal with reigning champions Manchester United on points with victory.
Not one for the faint-hearted, this clash should be all action and will play its role in determining the success or failure of the respective sides’ Premier League seasons.