Aitor Karanka highlights Burnley’s strengths to aid Boro planning

Middlesbrough head coach Aitor Karanka (Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire).

Middlesbrough head coach Aitor Karanka (Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire).

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ALMOST 90 miles separate the Riverside Stadium and Turf Moor, but given the frostiness between both clubs last season, you would be forgiven for thinking that it has assumed derby status.

On paper, at least, the Boxing Day meeting between Burnley and Middlesbrough – the two sides who secured automatic promotion to the top flight in 2015-16 – represents a spicy festive fixture, given the subplots of last year.

The first blow was struck by Clarets manager Sean Dyche, who spoke about Boro and Derby taking Championship spending “to a new level” before his Boro counterpart Aitor Karanka replied in kind.

As both sides were battling with Brighton in an ultra-tense battle for the top two place during a frenzied Spring, Karanka suggested that Burnley, given their squad strength, should have been promoted in February.

Both managers are now clearly intent on moving on with the pair having far more pressing concerns in the unforgiving world of the Premier League.

Dyche has stressed that there will be “no mind games” on his part and professed his respect for the Spaniard this week.

Karanka himself is intent on focusing on football and deflecting any side-issues on Boxing Day, with his sole concern being combating a very proficient Burnley outfit, who have reserved their best for Turf Moor this season.

Karanka, whose side drew 1-1 in a cagey promotion battle in Burnley at the tail end of last season when no quarter was given, said: “It is a tough game. They have won 16 points of their (total of) 17 at home.

“They are a really strong team, but we have experience of playing there. They are a direct opponent in the table, so it is a really important game.

“I know them, but we have players who were not here last season.

“They need to know how strong and competitive they are.

“I will show them videos so we are ready. Their style at the moment is successful for them.

“Last season they won the Championship, this season the aim is the same as ours.”

Former Manchester United goalkeeping coach Eric Steele has joined Middlesbrough’s backroom staff.

Steele, who has also worked at Manchester City and a host of other clubs, will help fill the void with current goalkeeping coach Leo Percovich out of action after rupturing his Achilles on the training ground.

Steele had recently been working for the Football Association, where he coached junior goalkeepers, and was named FA goalkeeping coach of the year in 2014.

Karanka, whose players will train tomorrow before having lunch with their families and reassembling at Boro’s Rockliffe training ground at 7pm, said: “I knew Eric from his time at Derby.

“He is experienced and he had – and has – a good relationship with Leo and he was the best option because he ticks all the boxes.”

Boro will be without Danish international winger Viktor Fischer for the Christmas and New Year programme and he is expected to be sidelined until the middle of next month.

Karanka added: “Viktor is going to be out for another two or three weeks.

“It is a shame because he was improving and adding the intensity he needs here. Injuries are never welcome, but for sure he will come back stronger.”

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