The invaluable Derby County player Middlesbrough will have to stop and what to expect from Wayne Rooney's side

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Middlesbrough face a trip to relegation-threatened Derby County this weekend – but what can Neil Warnock’s side expect when they travel to Pride Park?

The Rams, managed by Wayne Rooney, had won three consecutive matches but dropped back into the relegation zone following a 3-0 defeat by Rotherham last time out.

We caught up with Jason Straw and Cory Hancock. co-hosts of the Rams Review podcast, to get the inside track on Boro’s next opponents.

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1. What has gone wrong at Derby this season to leave them in a relegation battle?

Colin Kazim-Richards of Derby County celebrates after scoring against Bristol City.Colin Kazim-Richards of Derby County celebrates after scoring against Bristol City.
Colin Kazim-Richards of Derby County celebrates after scoring against Bristol City.

JS: “We are still feeling the effects of Phillip Cocu’s dreadful start to the season. Since Rooney became boss, the results have been much better (around the Top 10 form) but we were in such a hole we are finding it difficult to pull away.”

CH: “I do not think you can point to one issue that plagued Derby this season. It has been numerous little things that have been the issue.

“The players were not fit and many attacking options were injured to begin the season and the ideas former manager Phillip Cocu was trying to install were not getting through to the players.”

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“Derby have since replaced the first team fitness coach and replaced Cocu as manager.

“Additionally, the young players that Derby were having to rely on have not recaptured the form of last season and the speculation surrounding the prolonged (and yet to be completed) takeover has not helped matters either.”

2. Wayne Rooney’s last game came against Boro at the Riverside in November, what has changed since he was officially appointed the club’s manager?

JS: “The team has played much better without him on the field. There were signs of this last season and this season he missed games due to injury and isolation.

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“We have tweaked the shape and our intensity and style has changed as well. A big nod has to go to Riverside favourite Steve McClaren, he back at Derby (for the fourth time) and is back on the grass in a coaching capacity. It’s no coincidence that since his return, results have improved.”

CH: “Rooney has simplified the game for The Rams, they are a lot more defensively sound (except for the last 15 minutes against Rotherham).

“He was helped the form of Krystian Bielik in midfield a lot, so it will be interesting to see how the Rams cope without him long term. Offensively, Derby still do struggle to score a lot of goals. Hopefully the addition of Patrick Roberts will address this.”

3. It didn’t work out for Roberts at Boro, what have Derby fans made of his arrival in January?

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JS: “It is a position we needed to strengthen. Due to postponements, we have only seen him for 15 minutes or so at Rotherham, but from what we have read and heard there is excitement he can do well for us.”

CH: “I see it as a positive signing. I have always liked the look of Roberts and Derby need a creative spark and someone who can unlock defenses. Hopefully, Roberts is that player.

“He played a good ball in on his debut (which another debutant, Lee Gregory, probably should have scored) but it was a late cameo and since then Derby’s match (against Barnsley) was postponed.

“Hopefully, this break in the games has been good to integrate him into the squad, so he may feature more against Boro on Saturday.

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“My only concern is his defensive work. Rooney likes players to put a shift in defensively as well and from what I’ve read, heard and seen of Roberts, this is a side of the game he needs to work on.”

4. What formation are Derby likely to play?

JS: “It could be a 3-5-2 or a 4-3-3.”

CH: “Rooney seems to have settled on a 4-3-3 but recently we have also seen 3-5-2 recently as well. I would anticipate a 4-3-3.”

5. Who are the players Boro will need to keep an eye on, and what’s the latest on injuries?

JS: “Jason Knight and Graeme Shinnie in central midfield. Their energy levels are unreal. They really make Derby tick.

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“Also, our full backs, Lee Buchanan, an England Under-21 international, and Nathan Byrne offer directness and pace.

“Injury wise, in the long term we are without Krystian Bielik and Curtis Davies. Tom Lawrence is working his way back having missed the last couple of months. I think Saturday will come too soon for him. Other than that, I think we have a full squad to choose from.”

CH: “Two players really stand out from a Derby perspective. Jason Knight and Colin Kazim-Richards.

“Knight is often deployed in centre-midfield, although we could see him on the left on Saturday. The 20 year Irish international has a massive engine and never stops running. This youthful enthusiasm is great to see and he will be all over the pitch.

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“Kazim-Richards is at the other end of his career at 34 but he is just as crucial to Derby. His consistent run in the team since the winter has led to Derby’s uptick in form and results. He is exactly what this team needed. His grit, determination and leadership are invaluable to Derby in their current predicament and he is always battling and giving 100 per cent.”

6. Finally what’s your score prediction for the match?

JS: “I am going for a Derby win, 2-1. But I would not be surprised to see the same scoreline the other way.”

CH: “It will be a tough game. Boro are not an easy side to play against and add in the Warnock factor and it becomes even tougher. I’ll go with a 1-1 draw.”

Predicted Derby line-up

JS: Marshall, Buchanan, Wisdom, Clarke, Byrne, Baningime, Shinnie, Knight, Jozwiak, Roberts, Kazim-Richards

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CH: Marshall, Byrne, Wisdom, Clarke, Buchanan, Bird, Shinnie, Knight, Jozwiak, Roberts, Kazim-Richards

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