Middlesbrough FC v Watford Preview
Middlesbrough FC ended their losing streak before the international break as they earned a hard-fought point against West Ham at the hooligan-magnet London Stadium.
It was a much improved display against the Hammers and fans’ nerves seemed to have eased since the game, although matters off the pitch attracted most of the post-match attention.
On the pitch, a number of players impressed with their performances. Boro’s most creative player on the day was Viktor Fischer who looked to have a strong partnership with Jordan Rhodes and he was a thorn in the side of the Hammers’ defence, before he was substituted just before the hour mark.
Boro had more possession than their opponents and with 3 of their 9 attempts being on target, they were arguable more clinical than they have been in recent weeks and months.
Given their improved display, Aitor Karanka’s team selection will be an interesting one on Sunday.
Victor Valdes is likely to keep his place in between the sticks after a solid display before the international break. The Spaniard has received criticism from some quarters of the Riverside but it is important to remember that he has played very little football since his Barcelona days, and he will need time to settle at the club.
There could be changes at the back with Boro preparing to deal with the physical threat of Watford skipper Troy Deeney. Whoever plays at centre-back on Sunday is set for a difficult afternoon and it remains to be seen who will partner Ben Gibson at the back.
Calum Chambers had an improved display last time out but he may struggle with the battle that facing Deeney represents, so Daniel Ayala may be better option for Aitor Karanka. Meanwhile, Bernardo Espinoza is likely to be on the bench again.
In the full back positions, Antonio Barragan and George Friend are likely to retain their places but Fabio da Silva could be pushing the latter for a place in the starting XI.
Adam Forshaw should keep his place in one of the two defensive midfield places but it will be a battle for the other between Marten de Roon and Adam Clayton.
The four forward positions will be the most interesting selections when the team sheet arrives.
There was a clamour for Adama Traore to start against West Ham, but with Karanka claiming that he isn’t ready yet, it would be a shock to see him starting the game. Who will play on the right will likely depend on the fatigue of Cristhian Stuani, who has been on international duty with Uruguay and faces a long journey back to Teesside.
Another travelling back from Uruguay is Gaston Ramirez, so the number 10 position could again be occupied by Fischer. Stewart Downing is likely to keep his place on the left wing given his solid displays this season.
- Warnock explains reasons for collapse of proposed Yannick Bolasie deal
- Yannick Bolasie confirms Boro deal was signed ahead of transfer deadline
Aitor Karanka shocked Boro fans against West Ham when he selected Jordan Rhodes ahead of Alvaro Negredo from the start and the £9m man impressed despite not getting on the score sheet. Rhodes probably did enough to keep his place but much of it will probably depend on who has had the better week training.
Predicted Middlesbrough FC line-up: Valdes, Barragan, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Forshaw, Clayton, Stuani, Fischer, Downing, Rhodes