Middlesbrough FC v Chelsea Preview
This weekend ends the period that seems to be the longest in any football fan’s life – the international break.
Following a run of positive results, Boro fans are confident for the up-and-coming games and their chances of survival this season.
Roll back to late October, Boro looked in deep trouble as they were without a win since the second game of the season, and they had to faced the prospect of coming up against Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and champions Leicester City in five games.
Three games into the tough run and Boro have collected a more than respectable five points as they prepare to face one of the in-form sides in the top flight.
After a difficult start under Antonio Conte, Chelsea look lethal at the moment with the likes of Diego Costa and Eden Hazard in magnificent form. Both have picked up knocks while on international duty but neither injury is serious and, at the time of writing this, they should both be involved.
While there is no denying the quality in the Chelsea squad, Hazard and Costa are the main danger men, while Victor Moses and Pedro will also require special attention.
Aitor Karanka will be hoping that Daniel Ayala will be available again after missing the Manchester City game. However, there’s no guarantee that he will be in the starting XI if he is fit with Ben Gibson and Calum Chambers developing a solid partnership over the last few games.
Victor Valdes has been impressive in recent weeks and he kept Boro in the game against Pep Guardiola’s City side, so he will retain his place in goal.
George Friend was praised for his display and exceptional delivery for the Marten de Roon goal at the Etihad. He even made the FIFA 17 Ultimate Team of the Week, something a Boro player hasn’t achieved since Cristhian Stuani struck a derby double against Sunderland. Him and Antonio Barragan will probably be tasked with keeping Chelsea’s wing wizards quiet on Sunday.
Boro will probably stick with the 4-3-3 formation that has been successful against the tougher teams in the division and it would be a shock to see Aitor Karanka stray from that, even with his side being at home.
In the middle of midfield, Adam Forshaw continued his impressive season and is now one of the first names on the Boro team sheet. Alongside him Gaston Ramirez is back from suspension and he should slot in one of the three central midfield positions. The final position will be a battle between de Roon – who will be on a high after making his international debut this week – and Adam Clayton, with Grant Leadbitter still building up his fitness after injury.
On the right wing, Adama Traore deserves to keep his place in the team but it wouldn’t be a big shock to see Karanka reintroduce Cristhian Stuani in order to help out defensively. Stewart Downing or Gaston Ramirez will likely start on the left, with the other occupying a central role.
Alvaro Negredo endeared himself to Boro fans with positive comments about the club and the area and while he seems to be settling on Teesside, the Spaniard will be hoping to end his goal draught and score his second of the season against Chelsea. David Nugent may be a better option from the bench than Jordan Rhodes as his constant running and tireless work rate will cause trouble to Chelsea’s ageing defence.
Whatever team Karanka chooses on Sunday, they are going to face a tough afternoon playing one of the best sides in the division. However, people should never write off Boro because they’ve made a habit under the Spaniard of defying the odds – something that Karanka’s third anniversary memories showed.
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The key area for Boro will the centre of midfield. Stewart Downing will get forward more than Clayton, Forshaw and de Roon so he should start in the middle with Ramirez out on the wing. Despite Marten de Roon having a memorable fortnight, I would go with Adam Clayton for this match because I feel that his positioning and better passing range will be key if they are to get a result.
Predicted Middlesbrough FC XI: Valdes, Barragan, Chambers, Gibson, Friend, Forshaw, Clayton, Downing, Traore, Ramirez, Negredo