Sam Allardyce has played down his feud with Rafael Benitez, describing it as “water under the bridge” as he attempts to extend Sunderland’s winning run over arch-rivals Newcastle United on Sunday.
Former Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers boss Allardyce had regular run-ins with Benitez when the Spaniard was in charge of Liverpool between 2004 and 2010. He then re-opened the feud last year when he claimed Benitez had little to do with Liverpool’s memorable 2005 Champions League triumph against AC Milan.
The pair will come face to face again on Sunday in the white-hot atmosphere of a Tyne-Wear derby given added significance by the two teams’ perilous positions towards the foot of the Premier League table.
Asked about Benitez on Friday, Allardyce played a straight bat, preferring instead to focus on the St James’ Park encounter.
“It’s water under the bridge,” he said, before adding: “We’re enticing the best coaches to come and work here [in England] so it is always a great challenge to test yourself against them.
“Hopefully I will be able to make my team tactically better [than Benitez’s] to win the game.”
Benitez’s first game in charge of Newcastle after he succeeded Steve McClaren ended in a 1-0 defeat at table-topping Leicester City on Monday, while Sunderland’s last outing, on March 5, saw them concede an injury-time goal to Virgil van Dijk in a 1-1 draw at Southampton.
“We’re playing well, we’re playing consistently well and we need to make sure we continue that,” said Allardyce.
“To control the players’ emotions is one of the most important things I need to do.
“All players, wherever they come from, are well aware of derbies. This one is as big as any in the country.
“We need to make sure out of possession we are resilient to stop Newcastle scoring.
“The only way you can enjoy a derby is if you win it.”
Sunderland have won the last six encounters with their local rivals and will be able to call upon striker Jermain Defoe, who is due to train with the squad on Friday after recovering from a calf strain. Duncan Watmore and new signing Emmanuel Eboue are the Wearsiders’ only absentees.