'Boro v Manchester City - Opposition Preview'
Manchester City travel to the Riverside Stadium on Sunday for the Premier League clash. We chat to Man City fan Jordan Elgott of City Watch ahead of the game.
Firstly; what have you made of Boro this season and what do you think has gone wrong?
I'm quite surprised with how this season has played out for Middlesbrough. Given their fantastic defensive record in the Championship last year, I thought that with a few decent attacking additions they would fare okay in the Premier League. With Alvaro Negredo, Adama Traore and 10 others brought in during the summer window, Boro looked to be in a decent position.
Unfortunately, it hasn't gone to plan. The defensive stability has given way, while Boro's attacking play has been pretty woeful. The January transfer window was disastrous, with Rudy Gestede, Adlene Guedioura and Patrick Bamford failing to make a significant impact despite Boro shelling out over £15 million to sign them (rich coming from a City fan, I know).
Aitor Karanka has to shoulder a lot of the blame and should have been sacked earlier, in my opinion. It would take a miracle for Steve Agnew to keep Boro up now, but they are club that belong in the Premier League so I hope they come straight back up if they do indeed go down.
Can you summarise Manchester City's season? What do you make of Pep Guardiola's trophyless season?
There's no hiding from the fact that this season has been a disappointment for us. I'm quite a pessimistic fan generally, but when it was announced that Pep Guardiola would be taking over from Manuel Pellegrini back in February 2016, I felt that we would at least challenge for the title this season.
The first ten games of the season were nothing short of phenomenal - ten wins, including a victory at Old Trafford. Teams quickly sussed us out, however, and we have struggled against teams that 'park the bus', particularly at The Etihad. We've been far from perfect, but have been let down repeatedly by wasteful finishing and poor refereeing.
We are in the best possible hands, though. Despite a disappointing season, we are clearly making progress and are working towards something which I believe could be very special. We have a nice blend of exciting young talent (such as Leroy Sané, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus) and older, more experienced players (such as David Silva and Fernandinho). The squad is majorly lacking in some areas, such as full-back, but we are expected to spend big again in the summer.
I am confident that Pep will be a great success here.
With 5 games remaining, where do you think City will finish?
It can go either way with City, but given we have five 'winnable' fixtures left and a game in hand over 3rd place Liverpool, I'll be optimistic and predict us to finish 3rd, ahead of them and Manchester United.
How do you think City will line up on Sunday?
Predicting a Pep Guardiola XI has proven to be a very tough task this season, with the Blues making more changes than anyone else in the Premier League. We've played a lot of football this week already, with 120 minutes at Wembley against Arsenal on Sunday and a tiring 0-0 draw with United on Thursday.
Therefore I expect to see a few changes, but would be surprised if we changed the system (4-3-3, or some variant of that).
Zabaleta - Otamendi - Kolarov - Clichy
De Bruyne - Fernandinho - Delph
Sterling - Aguero - G.Jesus
What do you think are City's strengths and weaknesses? Which key player should Boro watch out for?
Our main strength is our ability to keep the ball, but obviously that doesn't mean much if you can't do anything with it. We do have some fantastic players going forward though, and any side that comes up against us will be well aware of the qualities of Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and co.
Our main weakness this season has been our defending, but we have looked much improved since the return of Vincent Kompany. The Belgian started his third game in a row on Thursday night, and so I expect him to be rested for this fixture in order to minimise the chances of another injury setback.
City's front line has looked a bit stale recently, but Gabriel Jesus' electrifying cameo in the Manchester derby gives me reason to be optimistic that he can make a difference at the Riverside.
What is your favourite memory from past Boro v City fixtures?
Well, we've had our fair share of crushing moments against Boro; the 8-1 at the Riverside in Sven-Göran Eriksson's last game as manager of the club lives long in the memory of rival fans, and Robbie Fowler's last minute penalty being saved to deny the Blues a place in UEFA Cup left me heartbroken. Not to mention Marten De Roon's last minute equaliser at The Etihad earlier this season!
In truth, we haven't had many great moments against Boro, so I'll go for the 3-1 victory at The Etihad in 2007. After years of mediocrity, we finally had an incredibly gifted footballer in the shape of Elano, who scored two superb goals that game. Chris Riggott (own goal) and Boro's Ben Hutchinson, who was released by Nuneaten Borough in 2014, were the other names on the scoresheet.
And finally, what is your prediction for the match please?
I expect it to be a tough game for City, with Middlesbrough happy to sit deep and try to snatch a goal on the counter like they tried earlier in the season. The key will be to get an early goal so that Boro are forced to have a go.
I predict a similar sort of game to the FA Cup tie between the two sides last month, and will go for a 2-0 City win.
Good luck in the game and in your bid for survival.