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West Bromwich Albion vs Middlesbrough: Match preview and predicted line-ups

West Bromwich Albion’s clash with newly promoted Middlesbrough has been selected as one of the picks of the weekend, the showdown at the Hawthorns having been chosen as the 13:30 kick-off to go before the Sky cameras in one of the Super Sunday showpieces of the Matchday III weekend. Tony Pulis’ Baggies will be aiming to earn their first home points of the season in this one, with Middlesbrough yet to taste defeat since returning to the Premier League.

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It will be the first time the clubs have met in six years, the last meeting being back in the Championship in 2010 with the Baggies coming out on top 2-0 at the Hawthorns. The home side have emerged victorious in their last four league meetings against the ‘Boro, but Aitor Karanka’s side will be keen to put that record right this weekend.

Recent form

Tony Pulis’ Baggies couldn’t have got off to a better start of the season, with Venezuelan forward Salomon Rondon’s solitary goal enough to earn Albion an opening day 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace. Back in the Black Country before their own fans a week later, they got off to a dream start with Gareth MacAuley’s ninth minute goal edging them in front at home to Ronald Koeman’s Everton, before goals from Kevin Mirallas and Gareth Barry turned the game on its head for the Toffees to steal away the spoils. The Baggies are also on the back of a cup exit, after a much changed yet strong Albion side crashed out of the EFL Cup on penalties to League One Northampton Town on Tuesday night following a 2-2 draw at Sixfields. But with one win away from home and one loss on their home turf in the league so far, West Brom will be looking to get off the mark at home on Sunday and make their home fixtures count, and they will need to be at their best against a Middlesbrough side that hasn’t suffered a league defeat on the road since March.

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Middlesbrough however are another side that have fared better on the road in their first two games. At home on the opening day of the season with Mark Hughes’ Stoke City the opposition, the ‘Boro got off to the best possible start in the first half, the home team out of the blocks like an express train at the Riverside and were good value for a 1-0 half-time lead thanks to Alvaro Negredo’s header. A Xherdan Shaqiri free-kick with just under a quarter of an hour remaining rescued a point for the Potters to frustrate Aitor Karanka’s men on the opening day, but they roared back in style last weekend on Matchday II, with two Cristhian Stuani goals including an early goal of the season contender enough to take all three points at the Stadium of Light in a 2-1 derby win over Sunderland.

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They were however also the victims of a cup upset in midweek, a seconf string ‘Boro side crashing to a 2-2 defeat at Craven Cottage to Championship club Fulham in the EFL Cup. Yet with such an impressive opening performance away from home in the league, the ‘Boro will be looking to extend their record this weekend over an Albion side who are winless in their last five home league games.

Predicted line-ups

With limited options in reserve at the back, Tony Pulis is expected to keep faith with the same back-four that started the game against Everton, including goalscorer Gareth McAuley and his Northern Ireland international teammate Jonny Evans, who has recently been linked with Arsenal in the transfer market. Matt Phillips is expected to keep his place on the right from last weekend, but James McClean may come in on the left flank in place of Craig Gardner as Pulis sets-up his side to punish ‘Boro in the counter, with the Irishman far more suited to getting in behind and creating chances. Salomon Rondon will amonst certainly start, and will provide the primary goal threat, and it is likely that want-away forward Saido Berahino will keep his place next to the Venezuelan, despite the unsettled striker being heavily linked with Stoke City and Crystal Palace over the summer.

After ringing the changes for their EFL Cup defeat in midweek, Aitor Karanka is expected to revert to the side that won at the Stadium of Light, with man of the match Cristhian Stuani providing all the threat down the right, with Spanish striker Alvaro Negredo the spearhead up front in a 4-3-3 formation flanked by Stuani and Stewart Downing, which will give ‘Boro plenty of width but also the luxury of being a compact defensive unit and tough to break down for the home side. Fit again defender Daniel Ayala may make his first start this season however to partner Ben Gibson at centre-half, and is likely to come into the back-four in place of Emilio Nsue, with Antonio Barragan moving across to right-back. Adam Clayton, Adam Forshaw and Gaston Ramirez should keep their places in midfield, as should Brad Guzan in goal after a strong performance in their win at the Stadium of Light last week.

West Bromwich Albion predicted starting XI           Middlesbrough predicted starting XI

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Suspensions and injuries

Tony Pulis has a fully fit squad to choose from for the Super Sunday clash with Middlesbrough, all bar Northern Ireland international winger Chris Brunt, who continues his rehabilitation from a knee injury sustained back in February. His Albion side furthermore has no suspensions to contend with from the opening two games, and Pulis will need all his big guns firing in a bid to secure a first home win in six attempts.

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Middlesbrough on the other hand are missing four players who are currently on the treatment table. Midfielder Grant Leadbitter and centre-half Bernard Espinosa are both nearing full fitness after succumbing to long-term injuries las season, but aren’t expected to be match fit until early September.

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New signing Marten de Roon misses out again after suffering a hamstring injury on the opening weekend against Stoke, with left-back James Husband also out with a shoulder problem. Aitor Karanka also has no suspensions to contend with for the trip to the Hawthorns.

Our prediction

Of course before the TV cameras anything can happen in a Premier League game, but we can expect Tony Pulis to drill his side to play well defensively, particularly after lapses at the back allowed Everton in for their two goals at the Hawthorns last week. The Baggies always carry a threat going forward however and Salomon Rondon looks a different prospect this season and a very real threat to teams. He will provide the Albion with the firepower to trouble Middlesbrough, whilst Karanka’s team will likely start on the front foot and seek to dictate possession and control of the game as they did in last week’s trip to Sunderland, from which the home side will look to profit on the counter.. With both sides having goals in them but also the capacity to make a mistake, there will be goals in what is certain to be a tight, cagey affair so we’re going for an honours even conclusion with a 1-1 draw.

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