Pre-match analysis: Not much to choose between Burnley and Middlesbrough

Pre-match analysis: Not much to choose between Burnley and Middlesbrough

Two promoted sides just above the relegation zone clash on Boxing Day.

Chris Lincoln

Expect plenty of sparring on Boxing Day as Burnley and Middlesbrough cross swords in a game that neither side will want to lose.

Goals hard to come by

With the recently promoted teams three and four points above the relegation zone respectively, both clubs will be relatively pleased with their seasons so far. Yet Sean Dyche and Aitor Karanka will only be too aware that any slip could prove costly in a tight survival battle, particularly against rival clubs.

For the goalscoring purists, Monday's fixture is unlikely to be a goal feast. With 16 goals apiece, only Hull City and Sunderland have scored less goals this season. Burnley themselves will have an even tougher task as they seek to break down a Middlesbrough defence that have conceded less goals than anyone in the European places. With the shot-stopping abilities of Tom Heaton and Victor Valdes at either end, a goalless draw does not seem an ill-considered suggestion.

Heaton has made more saves than anyone this season (photo: Getty Images)
Heaton has made more saves than any other goakeeper in the Premier League this season (photo: Getty Images)

Middlesbrough likely to see more of the ball

The visitors are likely to enjoy more of the ball, averaging over 300 more passes than the side from Turf Moor per match. Yet this may work in Burnley's favour who offer a danger on the counter-attack, scoring two goals from such positions already this season. With one of the fittest teams in the league, the Clarets will pile forward in numbers when they get the opportunity.

Middlesbrough themselves will look to take advantge down the flanks through the pace and trickery of Gaston Ramirez and Adama Traore. Burnley full-backs Matt Lowton and Stephen Ward have struggled with the step up in class at various points this season and the visiting pairing will test their ability to prevent crosses. If Karanka's side are able to whip balls across on too many occassions, central defenders Ben Mee and Michael Keane will have to be on top form against the poaching instincts of Alvaro Negredo.

Set-pieces could be crucial

Set-pieces will also offer an interesting factor in what is likely to be a close match. The teams have scored nine goals from corners or free-kicks in 17 games, whilst Burnley have conceded eight and Middlesbrough three from such positions.

The points could simply be decided by what team has more confidence to push for goals. There is an opportunity for the winner to pull several points clear of the drop zone, though the loser will be dragged back into the relegation fight. Dyche and Karanka will have to weigh up what strategy they will take come Boxing Day.