Head-To-Head: Rafa Benitez vs Slaven Bilic

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 25 August 2017, 09:08

NEWCASTLE and West Ham have often been considered twin clubs - United in many ways.

Passionate working class support, the occasional player who can turn heads and put bums on seats, but more often than not they shared a tendency for romantic failure and ineptitude in the boardroom.

The similarities on the field of play will be showcased this weekend when The Hammers travel to visit their North East cousins in a match billed already as a relegation six-pointer when we haven’t seen the back of August yet.

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Neither team has won a game and both managers are rumoured to be under growing pressure to keep their jobs. There are even fanciful suggestions Rafa Benitez might take Slaven Bilic’s job off him.

Bilic is in a far more comfortable position at West Ham than Benitez at St.James’ Park where tensions are growing as the transfer window draws to a close.

And it is here where we may just be starting to see two clubs with a common sense of calamity starting to drift apart in the East London club’s favour.

Newcastle are stuck in an age of austerity. Owner Mike Ashley refuses to break the bank to bring in the players Benitez feels are needed to keep his team in the Premier League having just experienced the indignity of a year in the Championship.

Some reports suggest the manager and his boss barely speak any more because of the intense stand off and growing frustrations over finance.

Three defeats in a row so far this season, to Tottenham, Huddersfield and Nottingham Forest could well be the only hat-trick Newcastle fans see over the coming months. Those results are playing into Benitez’s hands as the spotlight will be turning onto the billionaire Ashley to put his hand in his deep pockets and pay up.

In stark contrast, West Ham, a team which used to beg, borrow and steal to cobble together a starting X1 in years gone by have broken their club-record transfer buy twice in successive seasons.

Last year it was £20.5 million for forward Andre Ayew and this summer it was £24m for Marko Arnautovic.

Whether the pair are worth it of course is a matter of opinion. Many would argue no and results aren’t much better than at Newcastle. In fact, West Ham sit below them in the top flight.

But nobody can question the fiscal commitment of West Ham’s joint-chairmen David Sullivan and David Gold.

They have also coughed up £120K a week to pay for England keeper Joe Hart to come on loan for the season and a small fortune for some say veteran, some say past it right back Pablo Zabaleta.

Manager Bilic is also hopeful of spending £35m of his bosses’ cash on Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho before the deadline next week.

Of course this means the pressure on Bilic to deliver is far greater this season and that Benitez has the perfect excuse should his team struggle to compete in the richest football league in the world.

But where once West Ham and Newcastle fans could taunt each other across the terraces while grudgingly admitting they had more in common than they cared to admit, there is now a definite feeling that two clubs full of tradition and empty trophy cabinets are heading in vastly different directions.


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