This Sunday two big rivalries are set to take place in the Premier League: The Tyne-Wear derby between Newcastle and Sunderland and the Manchester derby between Manchester United and Manchester City.
These days are special for the supporters but also can be the most excruciatingly tense matches of the season as bragging rights are up for grabs. However, this season more than just bragging rights are at stake. The Tyne-Wear derby is a battle to avoid relegation and the Manchester derby could be crucial in the race for the Champions League places.
With these types of games form goes out the window. An atmosphere of excitement and anxiety fills the stadium prior to kick off and when the game begins, the ear-deafening roar from the crowd surrounds the players, blood pressure rises, full throttle tackles fly in left, right and centre, bookings are a certainty and players can go from being zero to hero in one kick, one killer tackle or one world class save. This is the most important game of the season. A game that must not be lost. Something you can saviour and celebrate … until the next one and the inevitable cycle starts all over again. This is derby day!
The Tyne-Wear Derby: Newcastle vs Sunderland (St James’ Park, 13:30, 20th March)
This game is one of the most passionate; intense and fierce matches of the season. Supporters of these teams display astonishing passion for their teams, especially when facing each other. This game has been hotly contested for years but over the past six games it’s Sunderland who have come out on top. They have won all six and have the long standing bragging rights.
Whilst Newcastle are traditionally the bigger club (and arguably still are), they’re both struggling in the league and have been for a few years. They are at the same level with the same objective: avoid relegation. The similarities continue as both teams changed their manager this season; both have leaky defences; and both have only won six games all season. This game looks like it could be a cagey and tight affair.
New manager at St James Park Rafa Benitez will want to win over the Geordie fans and there’s no better fixture to get the supporters backing. He has managed some of the top sides in Europe and is used to fighting at the other end of the table, so this will present a new and perhaps more testing challenge. However his style of defensive football might be exactly what Newcastle needs to survive this season. He will set his team up to be disciplined and rigid at the back which is what any team needs, at the top or bottom of the league, to do well and improve. A fact exemplified by Tony Pulis who is somewhat of a survival expert, having transformed the likes of Stoke City; Crystal Palace and his current club West Brom into established Premier League teams with a defensive and disciplined structure. I think they have a real chance of staying up if the Newcastle players take to the new managers’ instructions.
Sunderland on the other hand have something that Newcastle and other struggling teams seem to lack: a goalscorer in Jermain Defoe. Defoe is one of the most clinical finishers in the Premier League and has a proven track record, netting ten to fifteen goals a season. Now whilst a solid defensive structure is integral for long-term success a proven goalscorer is what every team needs.
Without trying to sound like Michael Owen, goals win football matches. Liverpool in the 13/14 season proved that a top striker (Luis Suarez) can win you games despite a poor defence. The score might be 3-2 or 4-3 but the main thing is 3 points and Defoe will get you those crucial wins needed for survival.
Moreover, their manager Sam Allardyce is one of the most experienced managers in the Premier League and much like Pulis, he knows how to keep teams up. He sets up his teams very well, exploits weaknesses of the opposition effectively and normally has the full support of his players, which is essential. I couldn’t see Sunderland staying in the Premier League at the start of the season under Dick Advocaat but under Allardyce, I think they have bagged a gem who might be able to steer the Black Cats to safety.
A win for Sunderland would take them four points clear of their rivals and leave a sizeable gap, both statistically and psychologically between them. A win for Newcastle could transform their season and might be the catalyst for their survival. A draw doesn’t really benefit anyone but with Sunderland 1 point above Newcastle and outside the relegation zone, the pressure is on the Magpies in this vital clash in the North-East.
Prediction – I can see this game being very tight and I don’t expect a lot of goals (which probably means it will be a six goal thriller). Neither of these sides are in form but as I said before, form plays little part in these games. I can see over 5 yellow cards brandished and a feisty encounter. 1-1
The Manchester Derby: Manchester City vs Manchester United (City of Manchester Stadium, 16:00, 20th March)
This derby has changed significantly over the years. 15 years ago Manchester United were the dominant force, winning trophy after trophy while Manchester City yo-yoed between the Premier League and Championship. The gulf in quality was clear. However, since the Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008, Man City have transformed into a world renowned club.
The quality of players at Man City is staggering. They have spent big money on world class talent such as Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany. They have a team that can compete with the very best teams in Europe and have shown they are more than just the ‘noisy neighbours’.
Whilst City have been on the rise, United have been declining. Since Alex Ferguson left in 2013, having won them the Premier League title, they haven’t been the same side. David Moyes and current manager Louis van Gaal haven’t been able to emulate the performances of old and this has resulted in poor displays in the league and Champions League (crashing out at the group stages this year and failing to qualify the year before). This has lead to the question being raised: Who are the best team in Manchester? At the moment, you’d have to say City.
This derby has grown in intensity over time, not just because of the rise in quality of City but also due to competition over Champions League spots. Man United have been poor all season, playing boring football and failing to win matches whilst City have been inconsistent, failing to record back to back wins since October. They currently sit in 6th (Utd) and 4th (City), separated by just four points. A win for City takes them seven clear of United and closer to the teams above them but a win for United and a potential win for West Ham (in 5th) could see City drop to 5th, just one point ahead of United. Its a huge derby game.
Prediction: I think this will be a good game to watch for the neutral fan and whilst Manchester United have performed better against the bigger teams and City have performed awfully, I think City will edge this one. I think that Aguero and Yaya can win City the game but they will also concede due to Kompany’s abscence. 3-2