One will drop: Newcastle v Sunderland, Benitez v Allardyce and £81 million on the line

Given that every top flight outfit in 2016/17 is guaranteed £81 million (Dh429.7m) from domestic television rights alone, staying up this season would be significant for the long-term future of both clubs, writes Greg Lea.

With both teams in contention for the Premier League title, the clash between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal earlier this month was widely considered the most important north London derby in decades.

The thought of silverware will be far from the minds of Newcastle United and Sunderland supporters when the fierce rivals meet at St James' Park on Sunday, but there is a strong argument to be made that this is also the biggest Tyne-Wear derby in a generation.

The north-east of England is a true football hotbed, with Newcastle and Sunderland continually vying for supremacy in the region.

There is far more than just local pride and bragging rights up for grabs this time around though, as the two sides are mired in relegation trouble, and victory in this weekend’s encounter would mean a giant step towards Premier League safety.

Read more: Richard Jolly – Rafa Benitez and Newcastle no natural fit, but at this stage, they need each other

Also see: Leicester City rise to the top of the table will be tough to replicate, writes Richard Jolly

Indeed, while Norwich City are still in with a chance of avoiding the drop, given their poor form and Aston Villa almost certainly being already doomed, it is a straight head-to-head tussle between Newcastle and Sunderland in the battle to dodge demotion to the Championship.

Given that every top flight outfit in 2016/17 is guaranteed £81 million (Dh429.7m) from domestic television rights alone, staying up this season would be significant for the long-term future of both clubs.

The pair's struggles this year are far from isolated occurrences. Newcastle, who went down to the second tier in 2009 with a squad containing players such as Michael Owen, Damien Duff and Obafemi Martins, only guaranteed their survival on the final day of last term, beating West Ham United 2-0 having previously taken just nine points from a possible 54 in the 18 matches after New Year's Day.

Sunderland, meanwhile, have spent the last few campaigns languishing in and around the relegation zone.

In each of the last three full seasons, they have started badly before changing managers and ultimately scrambling clear of danger with some last-gasp heroics.

This campaign, which has seen Sam Allardyce replace Dick Advocaat in the dugout as Sunderland sat second-bottom in October, has followed the same pattern thus far.

Mismanagement at various levels has plagued both outfits, who have the potential to be doing a whole lot better.

Sunderland and Newcastle attracted higher average attendances than teams of the calibre of Roma, Chelsea, Juventus, Porto, AC Milan and Inter Milan last term, yet all the duo had to show for such support was 16th and 15th-place finishes respectively.

The ingredients are there for Europa League qualification and runs into the latter stages of the domestic cups, but for now the sole objective at St James’ Park and the Stadium Of Light is to finish 17th in the table.

Newcastle’s recent appointment of former Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid coach Rafa Benitez – who began the campaign managing Cristiano Ronaldo and will end it coaching Emmanuel Riviere – in place of Steve McClaren is a last-ditch attempt to help them achieve that end.

While the squad at the Spaniard’s disposal features a handful of players that many top-half teams would welcome, Newcastle seem to be stuck in a rut that could be difficult to escape.

Sunderland's form makes for slightly more positive reading, although Allardyce will know that the four points dropped from winning positions against Crystal Palace and Southampton this month could prove costly.

January signings Jan Kirchhoff, Lamine Kone and Wahbi Khazri have made a difference, but a record of no clean sheets since November highlights the defensive issues that remain.

Sunderland have come out on top in the last six derbies between the pair, four of which took place not long after they had unveiled a new manager.

Newcastle’s decision to swap McClaren for Benitez was perhaps inspired by the hope of achieving a similar bounce against their rivals on Sunday. Whether it works or not will play a major part in deciding the fate of both of these relegation-threatened clubs’ seasons.

Nervy times for Palace

While both Newcastle and Sunderland would happily swap positions with Crystal Palace, Alan Pardew’s charges are still not completely safe from the threat of relegation.

The eight-point margin separating them from the bottom three seems sizeable enough, but Palace's 12-match winless run is cause for concern at Selhurst Park ahead of Saturday's meeting with league leaders Leicester City.

Things looked extremely bright for Palace after their last victory in the top flight, a 2-1 triumph at Stoke City on December 19 that put them in sixth spot, level on points with Uefa Champions League-chasing Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.

The slump since then has been remarkable, eight losses and four draws seeing Pardew’s men slide down to 15th place and begin to glance nervously over their shoulders.

Although Palace have been able to successfully negotiate a tricky run to the FA Cup semi-finals in the meantime – curiously, their barren league stretch did not preclude them overcoming Southampton, Stoke City and Tottenham in the knockout competition – their season is in danger of drifting into disappointment unless they get their act together soon.

In fairness to Palace, there has been an upturn in performances, if not results, in their last couple of outings.

They were the better team against Sunderland at the start of the month but only managed a 2-2 draw, while Liverpool were outplayed at Selhurst Park for over an hour two weeks ago, only for the hosts to lose late on after throwing away a one-goal lead.

With more tough assignments against West Ham United, Arsenal and Manchester United to come in the next month, Palace will be desperate to find their best form again and take something from this weekend’s clash with Claudio Ranieri’s table-toppers.

One more win may be all that is needed to secure their Premier League status, and Pardew will be keen for his side to get it sooner rather than later.

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Director: Zack Snyder

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Three stars

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Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

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Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

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Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

Army of the Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

Army of the Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

Army of the Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

Army of the Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

Army of the Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

Army of the Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

Army of the Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

Army of the Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

Army of the Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

Army of the Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

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Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

Army of the Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

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Three stars