Kick Off: Saturday February 27th 2016, 12:45pm
Venue: St James' Park
Last Season: Newcastle 0-1 Sunderland (A Johnson, 90')
Odds: Home 6/5 Away 37/13 Draw 5/2
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistants: M Mullarky & S Child
Fourth Official: A Taylor
Jeremain Lens is back in the fold following a hernia injury he's been recovering from for a number of weeks, and his inclusion is a timely one for Sam Allardyce, as the Dutchman gives him further options from the bench in a game where we might just need him.
Jermaine Defoe missed training earlier in the week with a calf problem but will be available for selection.
Chancel Mbemba, Fabrico Coloccini and Papiss Cisse are all on the comeback trail and stand a chance of making the Newcastle squad. Steven Taylor missed out on training on Friday but is expected to be available to play.
Newcastle tend to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with their pace and width on the counter their most useful attacking weapon.
In goal will be Ireland international Rob Elliot, who has probably been Newcastle's best player since coming into the side after Tim Krul was ruled out early on in the season with an ACL rupture.
In front of Elliot will likely be Jack Colback, who has filled in at left back recently with their usual options out injured, Steven Taylor, Chancel Mbemba - their best defender - and Daryl Janmaat, who will slot in at right full back.
In front of them should be Dutchman Vernon Anita and Jonjo Shelvey, who will look to move the ball quickly from deep and bring their wide players into the game whenever Sunderland are higher up the pitch.
Newcastle's attack line is one that, on its day, could cause the best of teams problems. Out wide on the left will likely be Moussa Sissoko, a player who for the life of me I cannot understand why he isn't playing through the middle. Sissoko is great at carrying the ball forward at pace and Rafael Benitez will be hoping that he can find space in behind Sunderland's right hand side and causes issues on the counter attack.
On the right will likely be Andros Townsend, a player who is very capable, especially when coming inside and shooting, and nestled in the middle just behind the striker will be Georginio Wijnaldum, Newcastle's top scorer and a player who is at his best when playing at St James' Park.
Leading the line will likely be Alexander Mitrovic, and his role will be to get right up against the Sunderland defence and cause problems by holding up the ball and bringing the Newcastle midfielders into the game.
Sunderland's starting lineup for tomorrow's game is almost as unpredictable as what the final score might be - with Sam Allardyce, you just don't know which players are going to start.
Vito Mannone is Sam's number one and, barring injury, he's absolutely nailed on to start in goal. Vito has played in some very important games for Sunderland over the years and Sam will be relying on his experience to ensure we pick up our first clean sheet since November of last year.
In front of him will be Patrick Van Aanholt, whose position at left back is relatively safe, Lamine Kone and DeAndre Yedlin. Sam's biggest headache is in which of Younes Kaboul or John O'Shea play alongside Kone through the middle - you'd expect considering his record against Newcastle and the fact that he's our captain that Big John will start.
Playing in the defensive-sweeper role will once again be Jan Kirchhoff, who has been excellent in that position since the start of February. He'll be anchoring between the defence and midfield and his job is the most important - he's tasked with keeping Georginio Wijnaldum quiet.
In front of him will be Yann M'Vila and, coming in for Jack Rodwell, I expect Lee Cattermole will start. The bite that Cattermole gives you is much needed in a game of this magnitude and you'd expect that despite some more promising performances from Rodwell, he'll have to sit this one out.
Up front it's fairly debatable as to who will be given the nod. Sam seems to like Dame N'Doye and although it would make the most sense if he wasn't starting the game, I feel he has a chance. That said, the hope is that former derby heroes Fabio Borini and Jermain Defoe can shoulder that responsibility once again and, in joining Wahbi Khazri up top, they should have what it takes to break down Newcastle and be clinical when the chances come about.
All in all, it should be a fairly strong Sunderland side that takes to the field.
Sunderland - LDWLDD
5 Mar 2016 -Southampton 1-1 Sunderland
1 Mar 2016 - Sunderland 2-2 Crystal Palace
27 Feb 2016 - West Ham 1-0 Sunderland
13 Feb 2016 - Sunderland 2-1 Manchester United
06 Feb 2016 - Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland
02 Feb 2016 - Sunderland 0-1 Manchester City
Newcastle United - WLLLLL
14 Mar 2016 - Leicester 1-0 Newcastle
5 Mar 2016 - Newcastle 1-3 Bournemouth
2 Mar 2016 - Stoke 1-0 Newcastle
13 Feb 2016 - Chelsea 5-1 Newcastle
6 Feb 2016 - Newcastle 1-0 West Brom
3 Feb 2016 - Everton 3-0 Newcastle
Sunderland songwriter Martin Longstaff - also known as The Lake Poets - had this to say about last season's derby fixture:
I watched it in the Chesters with my brother and Dad. Despite my initial trepidation I had a feeling we'd do it again. I even had a couple of mocking tweets prepped. When we sealed the deal the whole pub was jumping around like mad and I let leash with the jokes online. No feeling like it.
Read more of our interview with Martin here.
Sam Allardyce on his relationship with Rafael Benitez:
It is so long ago, all that stuff, that it is water under the bridge.
This is about players, it's not about me against Rafa. It's about preparing the players the best we possibly can, physically and mentally.
It's a massive derby, obviously. They are always huge but this is even bigger.
We know every game between now and the end of the season is important, but especially this one...
The fans are crucial for us. We have to stick together and be sure that every fan can help the players on the pitch.
This Season's Reverse Fixture
- Sunderland are unbeaten in their last eight meetings with Newcastle (W6, D2) and have won the last six in a row.
- The Magpies have managed to score just one goal in their last 627 minutes of football against Sunderland.
- In October, Sam Allardyce became the fourth consecutive Sunderland boss to beat Newcastle in their second game in charge. This will be Rafael Benitez's second match as Magpies manager.
- Sunderland have only lost one of their previous five league matches - although three of those ended in a draw (W1).
- The Black Cats have won just three of their last 26 Premier League away games (W3, D8, L15).
- Sunderland have conceded 38 goals away from home this season, the most of any team in the Premier League.
- Jermain Defoe has scored seven goals in his last eight league appearances away from home.
- Newcastle have lost six of their last seven league matches (W1), although their defeat by Bournemouth was their first in four league games at St James' Park (W2, D1).
- The Magpies have only scored four goals in their last seven Premier League matches, while they have conceded 15 goals in those games.
- Rafael Benitez has not lost his opening home league match as manager at any of his last six clubs (W5, D1).
- The only opposition manager that Benitez has beaten more often in the Premier League than Sam Allardyce (7) is David Moyes (10).