Middlesbrough-Sunderland Preview

Middlesbrough will enjoy their first Premier League road trip in eight years on Sunday, but the journey will only be a short one up the A19 to face neighbours Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

Sunday's face-off will be the first Wear-Tees derby since 2012 and first league meeting between the two clubs since 2009. However, even at this early stage of the season, the result could have far-reaching consequences for two teams amongst the favourites for relegation.

Sunderland only narrowly avoided going down a division last season, finishing just a place and two points above relegated rivals Newcastle. The Black Cats have since lost manager Sam Allardyce to the England national team job.

In contrast, Middlesbrough achieved automatic promotion with a second-place finish in the Championship. They have managed to not only keep their highly-rated manager Aitor Karanka, but also strengthen the squad significantly during the summer transfer window.

A derby match in the second week of their top-flight return poses a real test of Boro's Premier League credentials, but vice-captain George Friend believes the fixture also offers an opportunity.

"I don't feel any extra pressure in having the derby match so early in the season… if anything it is a good game for us, because as players you relish these derby ties," Friend said.

"They are tough games because they are probably a bit more frantic and played in a big atmosphere, but we'll go there with loads of confidence and knowing we have to raise our levels and be at our best. When you step up a division you have to do that, raise the bar, and there is nothing like a derby match to make sure you do that."

Boro drew 1-1 with Stoke City on the opening day of the season. Star signing Alvaro Negredo opened his account for the club by finishing a chance produced by fellow summer addition Gaston Ramirez (who completed a permanent move from Southampton after excelling on loan at the club in the second half of last season).

However, Marten de Roon - another high-profile acquisition - suffered a hamstring injury in the game and is unlikely to feature against Sunderland. Defenders Daniel Ayala, Bernardo Espinosa and James Husband are expected to miss out through injury and club captain Grant Leadbitter remains sidelined with an inguinal hernia.

Sunderland go into the game on the back of a disappointing but encouraging 2-1 defeat to Manchester City. They look likely to be without the services of experienced centre-back Younes Kaboul after the Wearside club agreed a fee with Watford for the player's transfer. The loss of Kaboul comes as a blow to a squad with already limited defensive resources.

Further forward in the team there is a greater strength in depth, with new boss David Moyes bringing in Manchester United's Adnan Januzaj on loan to add a spark to the attack. Januzaj emerged at United during Moyes' tenure at Old Trafford, but has since fallen away from regular first-team contention and is relishing the opportunity to play Premier League matches again at Sunderland.

"The manager has given me the opportunity to come here and prove myself again," Januzaj told the club's official website. "I came here to play games and I'm looking forward to working with David Moyes again.

"I always enjoy playing in his teams with the freedom and the confidence he gives me."

Januzaj may be limited to an impact role given the high intensity nature of the fixture and his recent arrival at the club, but will be expected to come on during the second half. However, Moyes won't have the same luxury with Sebastian Larsson, as the creative midfielder is out until early 2017 due to a knee ligament injury.

Defensive midfield is also a concern for the Sunderland boss, with Lee Cattermole and Jan Kirchhoff both struggling with shorter-term injury issues.

Moyes, however, will be looking to draw on the positive record he had against Middlesbrough during his time at Everton - losing to Boro just twice in 14 total meetings.

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