Prior to the Arsenal game, Boro fans seemed down about their side’s prospects with fixtures against Manchester City, Chelsea, Champions Leicester as well as the Gunners coming up.
However, after a solid display at the Emirates – where Boro could have actually won the game – and a confident win over Bournemouth, Aitor Karanka’s side look in a strong position despite their tough run of fixtures.
City have battered their last two opponents – West Brom and Barcelona in the Champions League – but that doesn’t seem to have deterred fan’s hopes and expectations from the game.
As Ben Gibson said after the Arsenal game, Boro are always at their best when everyone writes them off.
Boro have no fresh injury concerns going into the game with Cristhian Stuani and Marten de Roon back in contention, but Dani Ayala is a doubt after missing the Cherries match. However, the big news pre-match is the absence of talisman Gaston Ramirez, who is suspended.
Despite some comments pre-match that Aitor Karanka wouldn’t necessarily play the same way his side did against Arsenal, the system there worked so it would be a bit of a shock to see them stray from that.
Victor Valdes is expected to retain his place in goal after some impressive displays in recent weeks, silencing some of his critics from earlier in the campaign.
There aren’t many changes expected at the back either as Antonio Barragan, Calum Chambers, Ben Gibson and George Friend are all expected to start as they seem to be Aitor Karanka’s favoured backline at the moment.
The midfield three will be the main point of interest pre-match. Adams Clayton and Forshaw both impressed against Bournemouth and while Marten de Roon hasn’t consistently impressed, he was crucial in the draw with Arsenal. Meanwhile captain Grant Leadbitter played 90 minutes for the under-23s against Newcastle during the week, but he may not be ready just yet for a start.
With Stuani’s return to fitness, Karanka has some more options on the wings this weekend. The Uruguayan will give Boro a little more defensive stability but Adama Traore has looked a revelation in recent games, playing a terrific outside of the foot cross in the lead up to Stewart Downing’s goal last time out.
Downing himself is expected to keep his place on the left with Viktor Fischer on the bench.
Upfront, Alvaro Negredo is likely to start against his former club after an impressive display against Bournemouth. Hopefully he will have a little bit of extra motivation given how short his time in Manchester was.
If Boro are to get anything from the game, the three central midfielders will be crucial as at least one of them – more likely to be Forshaw – will need to get forward at the right moments.
Predicted Middlesbrough FC starting XI: Valdes, Barragan, Chambers, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, Forshaw, de Roon, Traore, Downing, Negredo