We return to Premier League action against Middlesbrough on Saturday, and ahead of the game Michael Cox analyses their strengths and the key areas.
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Spanish coach Aitor Karanka, who was Jose Mourinho’s assistant manager at Real Madrid, earned promotion last season by drilling his side well without the ball, but also embracing passing midfielders. This approach hasn’t proved so effective in the Premier League, however: after a promising start, Middlesbrough haven’t won in their last six games.
Middlesbrough play a 4-2-3-1 formation, although it’s notable that in the 4-2-3-1 formation, the attacking band of three offer very different options.
Stewart Downing, back at his hometown club, generally collects the ball in deep positions before dribbling forward, and still offers a great crossing threat from the left. On the right, however, Cristhian Stuani is more of a converted forward, and charges forward to become a second striker when Negredo drifts left.
Meanwhile, Gaston Ramirez is a classic South American No 10, capable of magic moments but who sometimes struggles to influence games.
Middlesbrough’s possession play is generally very good: the side is well-structured and the midfielders circulate the ball quickly and effectively. However, while they’ve averaged 52 per cent of possession, only Burnley have attempted fewer shots in the Premier League this season.
Boro's outstanding performer has been Adam Forshaw, a central midfielder who offers tremendous authority in possession. A calm, methodical passer who is also capable of spreading play with more ambitious balls, Forshaw is the player Arsenal mustn’t allow time and space.
Areas to Target
Captain George Friend was excellent in Middlesbrough’s promotion campaign but the left-back has found Premier League life much trickier. He’s a proactive defender who makes lots of tackles and interceptions, and Theo Walcott will look to exploit any space in behind him.
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