This year’s Premier League has been full of surprises, with Leicester and Spurs leading the way ahead of the familiar top four, and Chelsea struggling in the lower reaches for the majority of the campaign. But some things never change and the intense rivalry between the two Manchester clubs and the two north-east clubs is as strong as ever.
Super Sunday features both games in an incredible day’s action, with Manchester City hosting United at the Etihad, and Newcastle welcoming Sunderland to St James’ Park. What’s more is that both games have massive importance at opposite ends of the table. The Manchester clubs are separated by just four points in 4th and 6th, with Champions League qualification very much in the balance for both teams. Meanwhile Newcastle and Sunderland are only split by a single point at the bottom of the Premier League with relegation a worrying prospect.
With those extra incentives stoking the fires ahead of these games, we can expect two fiercely contested matches in front of ferocious crowds. While it’s never easy to pick a winner in these blood-and-thunder type games, there is a case for goals with none of the sides performing well at the back and all of them in dire need of points.
Manchester United v Manchester City
The two sides played out a drab 0-0 draw at Old Trafford back in October’s reverse fixture, but that was the first time it had remained goalless since 2010. The pair have met twelve times in-between those two blanks, and both teams have scored on eight occasions. This is usually a contest that produces plenty of goals, with a memorable 4-2 to Man Utd last April fresh in the mind. With both teams in desperate need of points to secure a top four finish, it’s hard to imagine this match being a strategical affair, and a point suits no-one.
City were rather unfortunate to have to withdraw both Kompany and Otamendi during the Champions League tie with Dynamo Kiev in midweek, and that will seriously dent their ability to keep clean sheets. They may have shut out the opposition in their last three games, but those were 0-0 draws with Kiev and Norwich and a 4-0 victory over Aston Villa. Prior to that they’d failed to keep a clean sheet for six games and United are plenty good enough to test a severely weakened defence.
For their part United are no misers either, despite Van Gaal’s growing reputation for safety-first football. They’ve only managed two clean sheets in the last ten games – and even those were in victories over Watford and Shrewsbury (FA Cup). They also have injury problems throughout the side, not to mention the game they played on Thursday evening against Liverpool in the Europa League.
It seems reasonable to suggest that both sides are betting going forward than they are defending, and with so much at stake here it could easily be a case of trying to outscore each other.
Newcastle v Sunderland
Sam Allardyce and Rafa Benitez have both gained reputations as pragmatic managers over the course of their careers, and they have exchanged verbal volleys in the past too. There should be more than enough spice to this game though, even without the animosity between the two coaches.
Allardyce at least has had a lot longer to work with his players than his opposite number, with Benitez only coming in last week to take over from Steve McClaren. He wasn’t able to have an impact on results immediately as they went down 1-0 at Leicester on Monday night, but the performance was an improved one and after a week of working with his players they should be in much better shape here. Sunderland have had a full 15 days off since they last played at Southampton, so they should be fully prepared but it’s debatable how helpful such a break is at this stage of the season.
Understandably, considering their awful form, Newcastle have kept just one clean sheet in the last ten games – the 1-0 home win over West Brom. However, to their credit they’ve also only failed to score three times in that same ten-game period. Sunderland haven’t kept a single clean sheet in the last ten (despite their manager’s reputation), but it’s also to their credit that they’ve found the net in eight of those ten.
If this game was mid-season one might expect a more cagey affair, but such is the situation that both teams find themselves in, that points are vital. Sunderland sit one place and one point above the drop zone with 25, while Newcastle remain second-bottom with 24. It looks very much like two from these two and Norwich will join Aston Villa in the Championship next season, and a victory here cannot be underestimated. The fans will demand that their respective teams push forward and it should lead to a very open game.
Interestingly, Sunderland have won the last six Premier League derbies and they haven’t been beaten by Newcastle since the 2011 defeat at the Stadium of Light. If Rafa Benitez comes away with three points he really will be labelled as the saviour of Tyneside, but we’d rather take the odds on both teams to score in a match which features two porous defences.
Man Utd v Man City – Both Teams to Score
Sunday 20th March, 16:00 GMT
Newcastle v Sunderland – Both Teams to Score
Sunday 20th March, 13:30 GMT