Rafael Benitez v Sam Allardyce focus
Published 20/03/2016 | 16:11
Aleksandar Mitrovic struck a potentially priceless second-half equaliser to salvage a point in a frantic and fraught north-east derby on Sunday.
Rafael Benitez's men were distinctly second best for much of the first period but battled back well for a result which leaves both sides in the relegation dogfight.
Here we take a look at which of the two bosses got the better of the tactical battle at St James's Park:
Benitez favoured a conventional 4-4-2 formation and his big call was to restore Chancel Mbemba to his back line after six weeks out. Mbemba looked distinctly shaky early on and the Magpies needed Georginio Wijnaldum to stay deep to protect the defence at the expense of their attacking intent. There were no surprises in Allardyce's line-up and the Black Cats worked as a thoroughly convincing unit, looking set to thwart their much more inconsistent hosts until Wijnaldum finally came up trumps with the cross for Mitrovic's equaliser.
With his defensive options limited, Benitez could do little but name a line-up which would invite first-half pressure, with Wijnaldum and Jonjo Shelvey both playing deep to protect the defence. In their absence, Daryl Janmaat was given the freedom to go forward but was too often out of position. Allardyce can have fewer complaints with the way his side went about protecting their first-half lead, but they lacked the incisive midfield link to put the game out of the reach of their rivals and ultimately paid the price.
Allardyce had been a picture of calm in the build-up to his return to St James's Park, and largely maintained his poise throughout the frantic action, barring one brief tirade aimed at his substitutes, and even refrained from getting involved in a late skirmish after Mitrovic went down in the Sunderland box. By contrast Benitez had more of a presence in the technical area, constantly urging his side on from the touchline and taking every opportunity to offer individual words of wisdom to his players.