All eyes will be on Tony Pulis as he drops down to the Championship having spent the best part of a decade plying his trade in the top flight.
He will certainly see the potential in Middlesbrough, who have one of the strongest squads in the Championship and one of the deepest pockets.
However it hasn’t been the expected start to the campaign for Boro. They started it as title favourites, just ahead of this Saturday’s opponents Villa but neither side find themselves even in the top six heading into this match, which will be the 25th league game each side has made this term.
Gary Monk paid the price for Boro’s slow start with his job but Pulis did at least watch on as his new side won on Boxing Day.
Middlesbrough haven’t totally convinced this term but even in the final days of the Monk reign, there were some signs that a corner was being turned. With 6 wins from the last 11 and 3 from the last 4, Pulis doesn’t exactly inherit a sinking ship.
It’s rare a manager takes charge of a side that is playing with a degree of confidence but Boro will approach this game in expectant mood with a 58% home win ratio and up against an out of sorts Aston Villa.
Britt Assombalonga to score anytime is looking good. He netted for the first time this month last time out to move onto 12 goals from 24 appearances this term.
The sides met twice in a week at Villa Park earlier in the season, drawing 0-0 in the league and Boro winning 2-0 in the League Cup.
There was no joy for Steve Bruce who pulled no punches after a poor Villa showing at Griffin Park saw them lose 2-1 and extend a winless December.
The Birmingham club are now down in 8th place, below Middlesbrough on goal difference.
Bruce will once again start to feel the pressure if results don’t pick up soon and this match is likely to be as tough as they come for Villa, particularly with a new manager in the home dugout at the Riverside.
Villa’s problems aren’t merely down to injuries. They’ve struggled to find wins against the top sides ever since they dropped down to the Championship.
Its been a difficult December that has already seen them play and fail to beat 3 of the current top 6. You have to go back to February and a 2-0 win over a then struggling Bristol City for the last time they beat any members of the current top six.
That doesn’t bode well for a trip to the Riverside, which is still one of the toughest Championship away days.
Villa have won on 3 of their last 4 league visits to the Riverside, all of which came in the top flight.
Villa have lost 42% of their away games. They’ve gone 5 games without a win for the first time since a 10 game winless streak at the turn of the year. Both runs started with 1-1 draws against Leeds.
Boro have won 4 of their last 5 home games to nil, three of those wins were by 2-0 margins.