Sunderland v Middlesbrough: Pre-match analysis
Grant Leadbitter and Lee Cattermole clash in the Wear-Tees derby but both will miss this game through injury (Picture from The Gazette)

Games between Sunderland - Middlesbrough are often feisty affairs. They may not be as fierce as the Tyne-Wear derby but there is still plenty of passion, pride and reputations on the line.

A quick internet search on this fixture reveals an iconic image of Grant Leadbitter and Lee Cattermole grappling at each others' throats when the sides met in 2007.

The irony is that Leadbitter, a Sunderland player back then, is now at Boro while Cattermole has made the opposite switch from Teesside to Wearside.

Boro’s seven-year absence from the top flight means that they haven’t faced Sunderland in the Premier League since 2009.

That is set to change tomorrow, though, when the sides meet at the Stadium of Light in the second week of the new season.

But what can we expect from the latest Wear-Tees derby?

​The managers

Boro boss Aitor Karanka knows just how much this game means to his fans, especially after the Teessiders’ long absence from the Premier League.  

He has never faced Sunderland before and only has the one Premier League game under his belt following last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Stoke City.

Even so, Karanka’s adaptation to English football has been impressive, and he regularly sets his side up in a well organised and disciplined 4-2-3-1 formation, with the intentions of hitting teams on the break.

In contrast, Sunderland manager David Moyes has racked up over 450 games as a manager in England’s top flight, though he is still new to the Sunderland job.

After arriving halfway through pre-season, he hasn’t had as much time to work with his new players ahead of the new campaign.

Moyes also has a number of injury concerns, as Sunderland will be without Cattermole, Jan Kirchhoff and Lamine Kone who are all injured. Fabio Borini is also doubtful with an ankle issue while Younès Kaboul has just completed a move to Watford.

​Injuries to cause Sunderland reshuffle

Those injuries will cause a considerable reshuffle for the hosts, who are likely to try and be more offensive after playing a compact 4-1-4-1 formation away at Manchester City last week.

In that game captain John O’Shea played in the holding midfield role. However, with Kaboul and Kone missing, he may be required to slot back into defence where he could partner new arrival Papy Djilobodji.

That may also mean that Paddy McNair, who scored a late and unfortunate own goal against City, could be moved into the holding role where he will be asked to keep an eye on Gaston Ramirez.

The Uruguayan playmaker was Boro’s best player in the opener against Stoke and will be hoping to repeat that performance tomorrow.

Battle in midfield will be crucial

Adam Forshaw will be detremined to take his chance in midfield (Picture from Sky Sports)
Adam Forshaw will be determined to take his chance in Boro's midfield (Picture from Sky Sports)

The midfield battle is likely to be a key one, with both sides depleted in that area. Leadbitter and Marten De Roon are both injured for Boro, so Adam Forshaw is likely to partner Adam Clayton in the middle of the park.

It will be a huge game for the 24-year-old, who looked like he could become a fringe player when his side were promoted back to the Premier League. Due to injuries, he has been given a massive opportunity and he will be determined to take it.

Sunderland could stick with the same midfield pairing that started against City, when Lynden Gooch and Jack Rodwell stated alongside one another.

Boro will also have to keep a close eye prolific striker Jermaine Defoe, who is already off the mark this season after scoring at the Etihad.

The task of keeping him quiet him could fall on Boro defender Antonio Barragan, who was originally signed as a right back but performed admirably at centre half last weekend.

There is no question that this is a match that both sides will think that they can win. It may well come down to who holds their nerve.