Middlesbrough travel to the Midlands as they look to get back to winnings ways after a disappointing exit in the EFL Cup to Fulham.
The defeat to the Cottagers seems to have drained some of the positivity from Teesside so Aitor Karanka will be keen to bounce back from the poor display at Craven Cottage.
The big question pre-match for Boro fans is who will play at left-back? George Friend and Fabio da Silva were both injured at Fulham and they join James Husband on the treatment table. That means there isn’t a fit senior left-back at the club, forcing Aitor Karanka into a reshuffle.
Alex Baptiste played some games there during pre-season and he filled in for Friend when he was replaced in midweek. Adam Reach is another option but given that he hasn’t even been involved in a match day squad since the start of the season suggests that he doesn’t feature in the manager’s plans.
Fans shouldn’t just expect changes at left-back either. Barring the always impressive Ben Gibson and Daniel Ayala, no one particularly impressed in a Boro shirt so Karanka may be tempted into changes given the manner of Wednesday’s defeat.
West Brom will be a tough challenge for Boro as, under Tony Pulis, they are organised, difficult to break down and physical. The Baggies aren’t blessed with attacking talent but with the star man Salomon Rondon, they have someone who is capable of causing problems for Boro’s back four and he has a goal in him.
Saido Berahino will also be a threat if he’s in the mood while former Boro targets Matt Phillips and James Morrison will also be a threat.
Brad Guzan is expected to start the game in the absence of Victor Valdes, despite criticism from supporters from less than convincing displays against Sunderland and Fulham. Emilio Nsue’s threat on the counter should see him picked ahead of Antonio Barragan at right-back while Alex Baptiste could fill in for the absent Friend on the left. If Barragan doesn’t start at right-back, he could come into the side in the centre of defence given Daniel Ayala’s injury problems this summer. Ben Gibson is expected to captain the side if Friend does miss out.
Given that Reach and Carlos De Pena look set to leave the club, Boro’s three attacking midfield positions should pick themselves. Cristhian Stuani should return to the starting XI after his goal scoring exploits against Sunderland, as should Gaston Ramirez after being rested against Fulham. Stewart Downing should keep his place in the side given the lack of real competition in that position.
Alvaro Negredo is likely to return upfront to make the front four the same that started the Wear-Tees derby. The debate over Jordan Rhodes’ future is expected to continue and it will be interesting to see whether he makes the bench on Sunday.
Predicted Middlesbrough line-up: Guzan, Nsue, Barragan, Gibson, Baptiste, Clayton, Forshaw, Stuani, Ramirez, Downing, Negredo