Boro head into the clash having won six of their last seven games and incredibly boasting seven clean sheets in succession and just two goals conceded at home all season.
Derby, just one point behind having played a game extra, are eight games unbeaten and likewise boast a fairly mean defence having conceded just 15 goals in 24 matches.
It promises to be a fascinating battle with both teams widely regarded as the Championship’s two outstanding sides and most likely to achieve automatic promotion come the end of the season.
But how would they look with a combined XI? It’s an intriguing question and one which would draw plenty of debate among both sets of supporters.
As per the graphic above, one potential best XI features the brilliance of Boro’s defence combined with Derby’s attacking prowess as six Boro players and five from the Rams make up the eleven.
Nobody can argue that Aitor Karanka’s side boast the meanest defence, with Daniel Ayala arguably the best centre-back in the division and George Friend among the best left-backs outside the top-flight.
Nsue and Jason Shackell make up the back four, the latter proving to be a wonderful acquisition from Derby as they look nothing like the side of last season which conceded so many soft goals.
Grant Leadbitter would make most people’s Championship best XI, yet this season he has been overshadowed by Adam Clayton who has really stepped up a level.
George Thorne is vitally important for Derby in-front of their back four, averaging 3.2 tackles per match and chipping in with two goals and two assists to boot.
Perhaps controversially only one Boro player makes the attacking four, but the selections are justified due to the goals and assists posted by Derby’s three standout attacking players.
Chris Martin has nine goals and four assists, Tom Ince has eight goals and two assists while Jacob Butterfield has proven his worth in Derby colours – providing real quality through the middle.
The Championship’s most renowned figure Stewart Downing takes up the final spot, though with only three goals and four assists perhaps the former West Ham United man feels he still has plenty more to offer.
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