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English Premier League 2015-16

Benitez swats away Allardyce mind games as old rivals rev up for relegation battle

Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez tells old rival Sam Allardyce to drop the mind games after the Sunderland boss claimed Crystal Palace could roll over at St James’ Park on Saturday

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 11:24am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 11:24am

Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez has told old rival Sam Allardyce to drop the mind games after the Sunderland boss claimed Crystal Palace could roll over at St James’ Park on Saturday.

I can prepare for the game, but to talk about mind games, I don’t take too much notice
Rafa Benitez

Benitez and Allardyce are embroiled in a tense battle to avoid relegation from the Premier League heading into the final three games of the season.

The struggle for survival was already heated enough given the animosity between local rivals Newcastle and Sunderland and now the personal history between Benitez and Allardyce threatens to boil over as well.

On Thursday, Allardyce, whose fourth bottom team travel to Stoke this weekend, said that if he were a betting man, he would put his money on Newcastle to beat the Eagles as the Palace players would have been “on the pop” (partying) since reaching the FA Cup final last weekend.

However, Benitez, whose side are in 19th place and one point adrift of Sunderland, was quick to swat away his rival’s comments.

“I don’t bet. Obviously I agree we have to win. In my experience, it’s the players who make the difference, not the managers,” Benitez said.

“I can prepare for the game, but to talk about mind games, I don’t take too much notice.”

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Meanwhile, Leicester defender Danny Simpson insists the prolonged absence of star striker Jamie Vardy won’t stop the Premier League leaders clinching the most incredible title triumph in English football history at Manchester United on Sunday.

Claudio Ranieri’s side have the eyes of the world on them as they head to Old Trafford knowing a victory against United would see the 5,000-1 outsiders crowned champions for the first time in their 132-year history.

In an era where the “greed is good” mantra of the Premier League’s big spenders has proved a turn-off for many, Ranieri’s collection of unsung heroes have captured the imagination of fans across the globe by making the seemingly impossible into a reality.

Completing their astonishing charge to the title at the home of the 20-time English champions would be a fitting final chapter in the Leicester fairytale.

But the Foxes’ first shot at sporting immortality comes with leading scorer Vardy banished to the stands after the England international was this week handed an additional one-game ban for angrily confronting referee Jonathan Moss following his dismissal for diving against West Ham United earlier this month.

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Although Vardy’s presence wasn’t missed as Leicester crushed lowly Swansea City 4-0 in the first match of his ban last weekend, the trip to United could be a trickier proposition.

Leicester last won at Old Trafford in 1998, each of their last six visits have ended in defeat and they take on a United outfit who are chasing a top-four berth with their spirits lifted by reaching the FA Cup final.

However, few teams epitomise against-the-odds success better than Ranieri’s men and, with Vardy’s replacement Leonardo Ulloa having scored twice against Swansea, Simpson sees no reason why Leicester’s coronation can’t come this weekend.

“I think we have just sent a message to everyone who has been a bit negative about us,” Simpson said.

“We have players who can come in and do well. Leo (Ulloa) was man of the match and Jeff (Schlupp) has come in and was excellent.

“Yeah, we have had a settled team but we have always known the players who are trying to get in the team can do well.”

Even if Leicester only draw on Sunday, they would take the title if second-placed Tottenham, seven points adrift with three games remaining, fail to win at Chelsea on Monday.

Defeats for both Leicester and Tottenham, who haven’t won at Chelsea since 1990, would also mean Ranieri’s team are confirmed as champions.

With England midfielder Dele Alli now ruled out for the rest of the season following his three-match suspension for punching Albion’s Claudio Yacob, even Tottenham striker Harry Kane concedes Leicester look out of reach.

“It makes it a lot, lot harder now we haven’t won. It’s not in our hands, it’s in Leicester’s hands,” Kane said.

“It’s not impossible but it looks unlikely the way their season has gone so far.”