Middlesbrough FC v Liverpool Preview
Middlesbrough and Liverpool couldn't be any further apart when it comes to style of play and the way each manager sets their team up.
Juergen Klopp has transformed Liverpool into one of the best footballing teams in the division, with a whole host of attacking talent operating in a free-form system full of movement, pace and skill.
Despite their frailties in defence, there's a general feeling that Liverpool are genuine contenders for the title season and their 'out score any team' mentality is proving to be successful. Whilst Klopp's Liverpool seemingly prioritise attack over defence, Karanka is the complete opposite. Since arriving to the club 3 years ago, it's been very clear what Karanka's philosophy is.
He's transformed Middlesbrough into a defensively solid outfit, building from the back and earning the right to play football in a game. There's been a lot said by Middlesbrough fans about Karanka's 'negative' approach and lack of attacking intent, but his system and style got the club promoted with the best defence in the country last season. But anyway, I digress, the pros and cons of Karanka's tactics have been discussed in depth by every Middlesbrough fan.
So with these two styles in mind, money would be on an Attack vs Defence training match with Middlesbrough parking 10 men behind the ball. This may be the case, but Middlesbrough showed against Manchester City and Arsenal that they are capable of catching the big teams on the break.
Firstly, the 'hard to beat' style which Karanka has engraved into the DNA of his Boro side must be at the forefront of the game place on Wednesday night. This doesn't mean every man behind the ball, but it means each player must be switched on and willing to do their defensive duties.
Karanka demands this from every game, but against a Liverpool side who have created the most chances in the league, it's vital we have a solid defensive unit to cope. Gibson, who is the best young English CB in the division, will face his biggest test of the season, but it provides an opportunity for him to prove himself on the big stage.
A draw would be a massive step towards safefy, but what could Middlesbrough do if they are to have ambitions of taking all 3 points? Well, Liverpool will be eager to bounce back from two disappointing results against Bournemouth and West Ham. Those two matches confirmed the suggestion that Liverpool have a weak defence.
Despite scoring the lowest amount of goals in the division, Boro still have the players capable of exploring this weakness to their advantage, providing Karanka has a full squad to select from. I watched the Bournemouth match on TV with my Dad and we both constantly said "when we play Liverpool, we need to get at Lucas" who was playing in defence at the time.
There's no need for Karanka to adjust his formation. The midfield three will help to nullify Liverpool’s attack, with the pace of Forshaw helping to turn defence into attack. It's in the wide positions where Middlesbrough are most dangerous. Since bursting into the starting 11 against Arsenal, Adama Traore has added a new dimension of attacking intent to a side which otherwise lacks pace. Despite his importance to the team, he's sat the last two matches out on the bench as Karanka opted for Fischer against Hull City and Stuani against Southampton.
In a system which relies on the quick counter attack, it's vital that Traore returns against Liverpool to provide an outlet and a threat to the Liverpool defence. The other notable absence against Southampton due to injury was Gaston Ramirez. The Uruguay international has been in fine form this season and is finally proving why Southampton payed £12 million for him 2 years ago. He's a player that makes Middlesbrough tick. With his quick feet, precise passing and a left foot capable of putting the ball in the back of the net, Middlesbrough have a chance of winning any game with him on the team.
Karanka's game plan will inevitably revolve around nullifying an exciting Liverpool attack and limiting the amount of opportunities they have to score. But Liverpool have a defence to be attacked and if Ramirez and Traore are on the pitch then we could cause them problems.
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I've been very impressed with Liverpool this season, but if Negredo, Ramirez and Traore return to the starting 11, Middlesbrough are more than capable of putting another dent into Liverpool's title ambitions and taking another step closer to the magic 40 point mark.