Jonathan Woodgate’s Middlesbrough side have made an awful start to the season.
They sit languishing in the bottom three having scored the least amount of goals in the division, notching just eight goals since the opening day of the season.
Woodgate is coming under serious pressure from Boro fans, and results will need to turn around quickly if he has any hope of succeeding as Boro boss.
Queens Park Rangers, in contrast, are competing at the right end of the table, but have tasted defeat in both their last two games.
The R’s have slipped to ninth, and need to get their season back on track with a win against their desperately struggling opponents.
With both sides needing the points, each set of fans will, of course, be expecting their players to win their individual battles. Here, we look at two such key battles where the game could be won and lost:
Eberechi Eze v Daniel Ayala
Eze’s performances for QPR this season have been a joy to behold. The attacking midfielder’s dribbling ability has been leaving Championship defences bewildered all campaign, giving off the impression the only way to stop him is to foul him.
We saw a prime example of this against Hull three weeks ago, when Eze ran almost the length of the pitch before drawing the foul for a penalty, which he duly dispatched nonchalantly.
His stats are equally impressive; the 21-year-old has scored 6 goals, provided four assists and his pass completion rate is up at almost 90%, all top 10 numbers across the league.
On paper, he has the tools – pace, trickery etc – to cause problems for 6ft 3in Spain U21 international Daniel Ayala at the heart of the Middlesborough defence.
However, Ayala is highly experienced and a wily operator, not to mention the fact he is a very good tackler and reads the game well. He has been of the Boro’s better performers this season, making 1.6 tackles per game and 0.7 blocks per game.
This battle promises to be a very intriguing one between two high-quality Championship players, and whoever comes out in top could potentially lead their side to victory.
Britt Assonbalonga v Lee Wallace
Britt Assombalonga has struggled his season, scoring only four goals from 15 appearances, but this weekend he will be up against the second-worst defence in the league.
Indeed, QPR have already conceded 28 goals this season, and they need to address that quickly. Lee Wallace could well feature again, too, with Toni Leistner a 50/50 for this one.
Wallace will need to deal with the pace and movement of Assombalonga who could cause him a great deal of difficulty over the 90 minutes.
If Ayala can contain the threat of Eze and Assombalonga can get the better of Wallace, Woodgate’s side could potentially spring a surprise on Saturday.