The Tyne-Wear derby once again could determine Sunderland’s fate in the Premier League. Given that Sunderland has six victories against Newcastle in a row during the past few years, another win could help the Black Cats mount a great escape once more.
Sunderland’s mastery over its local rival now could potentially mean Newcastle gets relegated. Entering this weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby, a single point separates the sides. And in all likelihood, one of the two is going to be relegated this season. Both are clubs with massive support and dropping to the Championship particularly in this time of top-flight TV riches would be a disaster perhaps of cataclysmic proportions for either ownership. With the fear of relegation in mind, both teams spent handsomely in January, but took very different approaches to the player market.
For the past several seasons, Newcastle eschewed the domestic player market, preferring to rely on the judgement of Head Scout Graham Carr to find players. The majority of these new recruits were brought in from the leagues in France and the Netherlands. While it has been apparent that the Magpies have underachieved over the last few seasons, the club has stayed in the Premier League with these sets of recruits. However, it can be strongly argued Carr’s best recruits, the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa came years ago and have all left the club for seemingly greener pastures.
Meanwhile Sunderland, prior to this season, had a habit of overspending on domestic-based players like Jack Rodwell (£10 million) and Adam Johnson (£10 million). Sam Allardyce, who was appointed in October, inherited a side that was a hodgepodge of different styled players bought by different managers. The team Allardyce inherited simply wasn’t good enough to stay in the Premier League. Not only did the Black Cats have a leaky defense, but the attacking side of the ball lacked the creativity or consistent wide play needed to fight successfully through a relegation battle.
This past January, the two clubs took dramatically different approaches to trying to get out of the relegation mire. Newcastle made two expensive buys of underachieving English players while Sunderland went to the continent in search of the types of players that could get them out the current relegation mess.
It can be strongly argued that Newcastle buying Jonjo Shelvey from Swansea City actually HELPED the Magpies then-relegation rival. Shelvey is a frustrating player who might well have been a maligned dressing room influence on an underachieving Swans side – it’s from this writer’s standpoint no coincidence Swansea’s form has been much better since his sale and they now sit eight points clear of the drop zone.
The Magpies also bought Andros Townsend the one notable young English player at Spurs that had run afoul of Mauricio Pochettino. Newcastle gambled on both Townsend and Shelvey to the tune of close to €32 million and yet no uptick in results has come since these purchases. In fact, the failure of these signings to deliver consistently probably further hastened the demise of manager Steve McClaren who was sacked last week. New manager Rafael Benitez has no choice but to get the most out of these two underachieving players or else Newcastle will likely be relegated.
Sunderland, by contrast under Allardyce, sought a new way forward. The Black Cats scoured the continent for bargains and players out of favor at their clubs and were able to buy four significant players. All four have made contributions to lifting Sunderland, for now, out of the relegation zone.
The purchases of Wahbi Khazri, Lamine Koné, Dame N’Doye and Jan Kirchoff cost Sunderland about €20 million total and all four have acclimated quickly to both English football and the high-intensity of Sam Allardyce’s management style. In the four signings, Allardyce was able to upgrade the Black Cats leaky defense, bring some midfield creativity and enhance the attack.
Khazri has proven to be the creative force Sunderland badly needed while Kirchoff and Koné, playing in varying roles, have helped solidify the defense. N’Doye, considered the least risky of the signings since he has previously played in England for Hull City, has contributed both in wide areas and in terms of serving as a second direct striker option.
Sunderland has escaped the drop zone thanks in large measure to these new additions while Newcastle has stagnated since the arrivals of Shelvey and Townsend. With this in mind and the Black Cats long winning streak against the Magpies on the line, Sunday’s derby will be a major statement for either side as to who will be playing Premier League football next season.