Rafael Benitez has brushed aside Sam Allardyce’s suggestion Crystal Palace could roll over against his Newcastle United side at St James’ Park on Saturday.
The Sunderland manager, whose side currently lead the Magpies in the race for Premier League safety by a single point, said on Thursday 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” since reaching the FA Cup final.
However, Benitez refused to be drawn into a debate as he prepared for yet another must-win game.
He said: “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. I can prepare for the game, but to talk about mind games, I don’t take too much notice.”
However, the Spaniard did acknowledge that some of Alan Pardew’s players may have the cup final at the back of their minds.
He said: “Everybody knows what it means to play in that final. When you are there, you have to be careful. I don’t see any player saying ‘I don’t care about the final’. I am sure they will be thinking about it.
“It’s normal when you’re in the final. Players are thinking if they pick up an injury, they can’t play, so it’s in the back of their heads.”
Newcastle, who currently occupy 19th place in the table, have given themselves hope of avoiding the drop with a victory over Swansea and battling draws against Manchester City and Liverpool in their last three fixtures.
However, they still look likely to have to win all their remaining games – against Palace and Tottenham at home either side of a trip to relegated Aston Villa – if they are to stand any chance of staying up.
Sunderland currently hold the advantage in a three-way race with the Magpies and Norwich, with two of the three all-but mathematically certain to go down.
Benitez said: “They [Sunderland] are in a better position than us for sure, but if we can win this, then we will have more confidence, belief and we can approach that Aston Villa game.
“The main one is this one. I am just looking at this game and we’ll see after that.”