Preview: Stoke vs Middlesbrough

This Saturday we welcome the Boro to the Bet365 Stadium. The last time the two sides met resulted in a 1-1 draw at Riverside, in the opening game of the season.

We are approaching this game off the back of a dire result against Spurs at White Hart Lane. This has prompted fans to call for Hughes out, with some demanding that his time at the Potters should come to an end either now or at the end of the season, amid claims that his style of play has reverted back to a Pulis era defensive approach. This has now become more evident as he approached the game with “Pulis Grafters” and had the team sitting back, this went against the last two fixtures at White Hart Lane, in which we attacked from the off and the games ended up with one win and a draw. So why the change of heart? For a further in-depth analysis of the game, go head to the blog page and read Tom Thrower’s article about the game.

Last week saw Middlesbrough lose to an out-of-form Crystal Palace side, this has pushed them closer to the relegation zone and are equal on points with 18th place Palace, four goals separate the two. This leaves Karanka with two possible approaches to utilise. “Graft” out a point, or go for an all-out attack method and hope for a win. Given Boro’s recent approach to recent games, I would normally expect the former. However, we have been playing that way for several games now, so it’s possible he will take advantage of our deep play and attack.

I spoke to Josh Barker, from Read Middlesbrough, to get an insight in the opposition and how they feel about their position at the moment.

Let’s be honest, your current form hasn’t been great, not getting a win since 17th December. What is it that the fans reckon is causing this?

I believe one of the main reasons for this is Karanka’s seeming unwillingness to try and win a game. Even against lesser teams we still play three defensive midfielders every game and have discarded the central attacking midfielder position which has limited us drastically even against sides with poor defensive records such as Crystal Palace, we still could not score.

The loss vs CP last weekend has pulled you closer to the relegation zone, with only 4 goals separating you from CP in 18th? How important would a win against the Eagles have been?

Middlesbrough desperately needed to win that game as it would have not only put us 5 points above the relegation zone, it would also have been hugely demoralising for CP and could have sealed their relegation fate. Now however, they are on the same points as us, full of confidence and will be looking to overtake us at the weekend.

The last time the two sides met was the opening day of the league, you hosted, and it ended 1-1. The Middlesbrough side then looked much more threatening and the result could have easily been a win in your favour. How can you replicate that kind of pressure against Stoke this time around?

I think the reason for this was because at that point we were still playing 4231 and still played a CAM. If we were to have any hope of replicating that kind of performance on Saturday Karanka will have to revert back to the 4231 system.

One question I always like to ask is, which Stoke player are you most weary of, and why?

I think Arnautovic has always been one of Stokes biggest threats and could be doubly dangerous for Boro this weekend as Chambers, Friend and Baragan may all still be out, meaning Boro would only have one full back available again and might have to play Downing their like we did against Palace and Arnautovic certainly has the pace and skill to cause Boro problems if we had to play Downing as a full back again.

In turn, which player should we be most worried about, and why?

Middlesbrough have had very few threats in the attacking department but one player who has always been a handful this season is Adama Traore who loves taking players on. However, his end product is not great but he is still probably Boro’s best attacking threat.

Some good news is that you’re still in the FA Cup, how important is that to the fans, or are you wanting to focus on the league?

Most of the fans are pleased with how we have done in the cup this season and would love to go all the way. However, myself and I’m sure many others, would much prefer staying in the Premier League rather than winning the cup.

Finally, the January Transfer Window was a time to really fix areas in all squads, what would you have liked to have seen done differently and of course, how was the Bojan speculation for you guys? Was he a player you really wanted instead of Gaston?

Boro’s January transfer window was a failure in many fans’ eyes. We did try to sign three good attacking mids including Snodgrass, Jese and Bojan. However, all of these deals fell through for one reason or another. I do not blame Karanka as he did try to get good players in but I would have liked to have secured at least one of the three targets we failed to get as our attacking threat really could have done with being bolstered.

Thank you Josh and all the best on Saturday!

Middlesbrough current have 9 points from their 13 away games, this has averaged a 0.69 points per away game. Not the best, and they’ve only picked up 1 point in the last 4 away games. Whereas, Stoke City have picked up 7 points in the last 4 home games. Still not great. We have only scored one more goal at home compared to when we play away. This hopefully will change this weekend, and here’s why.

After the embarrassing defeat last week, this should have woken Hughes up to the fact that he needs to change his starting XI. The Potters could very well attempt go back to “Stokealona” and their opponents form would allow a platform to kick start that. Brining in Afellay, after signing a new deal, for Adam and giving Berhanio his first start instead of Crouch. An increase in the speed of play and pushing further forward. This would allow Allen to be played in his natural position. If this were to happen, Whelan could well be rested in favour of Imbula or recently recovered Geoff Cameron.

This a must win game as we are approaching games against Chelsea and Liverpool. Here’s to hoping Hughes rectifies the issues that were present last week, a three points for the Potters.

Sky Bet have set the following odds: Stoke: 19/20 Draw: 9/4 Boro: 16/5

Written by Benito Fisher

Trackback from your site.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.