Saturday afternoon’s tie is a battle for top spot, and, whilst a win for Derby keeps them top no matter what, Boro could win and only move to third, if Ipswich and Bournemouth win their respective games as well.
Both clubs are two of the favourites for promotion to the Premier League, and, in Aitor Karanka and Steve McClaren, they possess two of the best managers in the division. Karanka has reshaped Boro into a formidable force since his arrival from Real Madrid, whilst McClaren has a wealth of experience and man management skills leading him within minutes of securing top flight football last term in the Play-Off Final.
On a player-by-player basis, one would argue that Derby are the better side, and they perform as a remarkably adept team unit as well. Whereas Boro are weak in some areas of the game, although they possess the best defence in the division - having conceded just 15 goals in 20 games - and their strike force is starting to excel - as shown in the 5-1 victory over Millwall last week.
While Karanka’s side have a rightful claim to be crowned the best team in the division, the Spanish coach has admitted himself that Derby are undoubtedly the best in the league.
“For me the main thing is ourselves,” Karanka told the official Middlesbrough website. “If we play the way we played on Saturday [against Millwall] it doesn’t matter who is the opponent.
“Derby are the best team in the league in my opinion, and after that game we have Ipswich. They will be difficult games.”
Following the visit of Derby to the Riverside Stadium, Boro travel to Portman Road to face high-flying Ipswich, and it promises to be another vital game in the search for promotion, with both sides leading the charge for Championship top spot.