Three key battles that will decide Sunderland v Middlesbrough Wear-Tees derby

Sunderland take on Middlesbrough today as the two North-East sides face off for the first time since a League Cup meeting back in 2012.
Jermain Defoe in actionJermain Defoe in action
Jermain Defoe in action

Premier League new boys Boro recorded a 1-1 draw at home to Stoke on the opening weekend while the Black Cats were beaten by a late goal away at Manchester City.

Here is a look at three potential battles on the pitch that could decide the game at the Stadium of Light.

Jermain Defoe vs Antonio Barragan

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On paper this may look like a mismatch, a proven Premier League goal scorer against a makeshift centre half.

Defoe is already up and running this season after scoring away at City, and the Sunderland striker may be licking his lips at the prospect of facing Barragan - who was originally signed by Boro as a right back from Valencia this summer.

Even so the 29-year-old defender has proved, in Boro’s final pre-season friendly against Real Sociedad and last Saturday against Stoke, that he is more than capable when asked to cover at centre half.

Last weekend Barragan played alongside Ben Gibson, due to the injuries sustained by Daniel Ayala and Bernardo Espinosa, and continuously positioned himself well to keep the visitors out.

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Defoe should be trickier to keep quiet following his 15 league goals last campaign, though Barragan has plenty of experience at the top level after playing over 100 games in La Liga.

John O’Shea vs Gaston Ramirez

Ramirez was Boro’s standout player against Stoke and is pivotal in Karanka’s 4-2-3-1 formation- both on and off the ball.

He adds an extra body in midfield when Boro aren’t in possession and is often his side’s most creative player when they go on the attack.

With Lee Cattermole and Jan Kirchhoff both missing though injury, the task of monitoring Ramirez could fall on 35-year-old John O’Shea, after the Sunderland captain was deployed in a holding midfield role against City.

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O’Shea has already stated that his side have what it takes to stifle Boro striker Alvaro Negredo, after the powerful forward scored on his debut last weekend.

Even so Ramirez is another player who can be a handful on his day and it could be O’Shea’s duty to stop him.

Patrick van Aanholt vs Albert Adomah

This battle down the flank could be a crucial one and could ultimately be decided by who is more disciplined on the day.

Sunderland left back van Aanholt has the ability to hurt teams going forward and if he doubles up with his wide man Boro could have real problems when defending down that side.

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Against Stoke, Adomah wasn’t always aware of his defensive duties and occasionally left his full back Emilio Nsue exposed against Erik Pieters and Marko Arnautovic.

Similarly, van Aanholt isn’t known for his great defending and if Adomah is allowed to run at the Dutchman that could spell problems for the Black Cats.

The Ghanaian winger does go missing on occasions but at times last season Adomah looked unplayable in the Championship.