The inside track on Middlesbrough...
23 September 2016|Tottenham Hotspur
We haven't played Middlesbrough for over seven years, so who better to run the rule over the men from Teeside than Jonathon Taylor, Boro reporter at the Middlesbrough Gazette...
Jonathon Taylor, Middlesbrough Gazette
It’s early days, but how have Middlesbrough settled back into the Premier League?
Jonathon: "It's been a steady start in what is Boro's first season back in the top-flight since 2008-09. After a strong pre-season which saw 12 players arrive, Boro started with a three-game unbeaten run in the league with draws against Stoke and West Brom sandwiched either side of a win at north-east rivals Sunderland. That was encouraging, with Aitor Karanka's side showing the same defensive strength that saw them keep 22 clean sheets in the Championship last season. Since then, Boro have suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time since March, and how the team copes with setbacks will determine their fate this season. Over the last two years, Boro haven't lost many games under Karanka - so ending on the losing side is something they're not used to. But with the quality in the top-flight, it's going to happen - so they must find a way of keeping level-headed and bouncing back. Boro were a tad unfortunate to end on the losing side against Crystal Palace with a couple of late penalty calls turned down, but were outclassed at Everton last weekend - with some fairly uncharacteristic defensive errors to boot. Getting Boro water-tight again will have been Karanka's top priority this week on the training ground ahead of Spurs' visit."
Spurs fans won’t have seen much of Boro under Aitor Karanka - what style of football does he favour?
Jonathon: "Karanka's Boro are built on steady defensive foundations. He often alludes to a saying he used in Spain - 'to build a house you must start with the floor'. During his two-and-a-half year spell in charge, Karanka has transformed Boro's leaky back-line into a watertight defence. He sets Boro up in a rigid 4-2-3-1 formation, with two deep-lying central midfielders who act as a defensive screen. It's then up to the attacking trio to get forward to help his lone striker - presumably Alvaro Negredo this weekend. Boro showed signs in pre-season of being deadly on the counter-attack, and although we haven't quite seen them reach that level so far in the Premier League, it's a tactic they will no doubt look to use against Spurs on Saturday."
Below: Aitor Karanka
Alvaro Negredo was the big-name summer arrival - how has he performed so far? Who else of the summer signings have caught the eye?
Jonathon: "A few eyebrows were raised when Boro managed to sign Negredo on loan this summer, and that's no surprise. This is a player who scored 23 goals during his single season at Manchester City, and won a Premier League medal. But Karanka has acknowledged Negredo is a player who is still rediscovering his confidence, following a barren spell in Valencia. He's showing signs of his former self, but is not 100% - both physically and mentally. A fully-firing Negredo, according to Karanka, is worth £30m+ - but equally he admits if that was the case, Boro wouldn't have been able to lure him to Teesside this summer. The player has started well - his aerial prowess means Boro have a focal point, and he seems to relish the physical battle. In that sense, he's the perfect build to be a Premier League No 9. His only goal this season came on the opening day against Stoke, and he played a big role in Boro's opener at Everton last weekend - albeit a foul which was missed by referee Lee Mason. He had to buy a ticket to win the raffle, I guess. Elsewhere, right-back Antonio Barragan - another recruit from Valencia - has settled into the team very well, while Gaston Ramirez has already proven himself as a pivotal player for Boro this season in the No 10 position. If he plays well, Boro play well."
Below: Alvaro Negredo scores at Everton
Do Boro have anyone definitely out for Saturday and how would you expect them to line-up?
Jonathon: "Boro have a couple of long-term absentees, most notably captain Grant Leadbitter who underwent a hernia operation in the summer and will subsequently miss the next couple of months. Former Man United defender Fabio da Silva also misses out with a knee problem, while James Husband has a dislocated shoulder. Last weekend at Goodison Park, Boro were without Uruguay international forward Cristhian Stuani (groin) and Jordan Rhodes (knee), and they will both be assessed ahead of this weekend's game. But on-loan Arsenal defender Calum Chambers and summer signing Bernardo Espinosa - who suffered a cruciate while at Sporting Gijon in January - are both fit and hoping to make their first appearances of the season on Saturday."
Finally, what are your thoughts on Spurs and how do you think Saturday will pan out?
Jonathon: "In any other year, Tottenham would have taken all the plaudits last season - and rightly so. But in the end, Leicester got the job done and smashed the so-called Premier League glass ceiling for 'smaller' clubs. There's a lot to like about Spurs, looking from the outside. They seem to be built on good, solid foundations with the likes of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld - who at their best would grace any side in the division. What seems to sets them apart is their attacking flair. Christian Eriksen is a cracking player, while Erik Lamela has the ability to turn a game in an instant. Obviously, Boro fans will be relieved they will not be up against Harry Kane at the Riverside, but with one player's disappointment comes another player's opportunity. Boro will have to be back to their defensive best on Saturday to stifle Spurs' attack, as well as show a bit more of attacking guile in the final third. I think it'll be tight - and wouldn't be surprised if it ended as a 1-1 draw."