Tyne-Wear Derby: Rafa Benitez vs Sam Allardyce

by Andy Dillon / 17 March 2016, 09:06

Rafa BenitezAhead of Sunday's crunch Tyne-Wear derby The Sun's Andy Dillon (andydillon70) looks at the spicy rivalry between Rafa Benitez and Sam Allardyce, and whether the former can handle the tension, drama and all-round chaotic nature of a Premier League relegation battle, as the Spaniard is the first A-list foreign boss to really take it on.

RAFA BENITEZ already deserves a little place in football history.

Simply by accepting the job of trying to save Newcastle's skin he is a one-off, a trailblazer, a rare breed among his kind.

The Spaniard is the first genuine A-list foreign coach to put his reputation to the test and accept a job down in the trenches of the Premier League.

Over the next two months we will finally discover whether managers from overseas really do have what it takes to dig a team out of trouble at the wrong end of the most competitive league in the world.

And whether they have the edge over the British bosses they are regularly putting out of work.

The evidence so far is hardly convincing.

The closest we have got to watching a foreign superstar manager in bother was Jose Mourinho at Chelsea in the first half of this season.

And boy did he struggle. The self-assured Portuguese dropped pretty much his entire squad in rotation to work his way out of the bottom half of the table and it backfired spectacularly.

Chelsea are only now starting to heal the deep wounds of his decisive masterplan to turn things around which ultimately cost him his job and his clubs millions of pounds as they will miss out on the Champions League next season.

Benitez also managed Chelsea - taking over after they sacked Roberto di Matteo - as Champions League winners and he went on to win the Europa League the following year as a consolation. It was hardly basement battle stuff.

His immortalised time at Liverpool, then Inter Milan and Real Madrid underline the fact that most of his managerial career has been spent with teams looking up from already giddy heights instead of down.

The relegation scrap will rekindle dusty old memories of his stuttering start to management - being sacked at Real Valladolid with the team bottom of the Primera Division and relegation with Extremadura in 1997.

You can put that down to naivety and Benitez has made up for it since. Renowned for tactical nouse and confidence to make winning off-the-cuff decisions, he is a stickler for organisation.

This Sunday all those credentials will be tested to the limit when his Newcastle team welcome bitter rivals and hated neighbours Sunderland to St.James' Park in a classic relegation six-pointer.

It will not only be the two sets of fans at each other's throats.

Benitez and Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce have an open dislike for each other.

Sam Allardyce

The contest also throws up the perfect chance to see how 'one of our own' in Dudley's Big Sam can match up against Benitez when so much is at stake and the pressure is on.

Those who know the two men best believe the crackle of contempt between them may well be because they are more similar than they care to admit.

Allardyce is a respected tactician, he puts out solid teams with the emphasis on hard work and frills come as a luxury as a winning result is paramount.

Former West Ham boss Allardyce is also considered a superb motivator, with an earthy touch at the training ground where he treats the start striker and the apprentices the same.

Benitez's CV shows nobody can turn a team around better than him.

His calmness and cool head in the famous 2005 Champions League final with Liverpool in Istanbul is an enduring image.

It wasn't so much what he said as what he did by switching his defence around and bringing on Didi Hamann that swung the tie back in Liverpool's favour after being 3-0 down and dead ducks at the break.

Benitez also likes fighters in his team - the kind of battlers Allardyce would appreciate. His favourites at Liverpool were Dirk Kuyt and Javier Mascherano - workhorses.

A relegation battle is effectively new territory for Benitez though he can turn to his CV for help.

But against Allardyce this weekend we will at least get an idea of how foreign managers match up to our lads at the wrong end of the table.

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