We preview Saturday’s FA Cup tie between Middlesbrough and Manchester City.
Both sides will be going into this game somewhat deflated. City blew a golden opportunity to close the gap on leaders Chelsea to 8 points after an insipid 0-0 draw with Stoke City on Wednesday night. Guardiola has had a roller-coaster opening season that has at least opened his eyes to the ultra-competitiveness of the English top flight. Boro have been in freefall in the league, only winning one game in their last six in all competitions. In fact, their last three victories in any competition have all come in the Cup – all against lower tier opposition. Aitor Karanka will look to the Cup for solace while City may see it as a distraction ahead of their European tie with Monaco next week.
Middlesbrough v Manchester City | Saturday 11 March | Riverside Stadium | 14:15
To Win (90 Mins)
Middlesbrough 6/1 | Draw 34/10 | City 4/10
Aitor Karanka is the polar opposite of – say – Eddie Howe. And looking at both sides at present, perhaps Howe’s more gung-ho approach was sensible in collecting early points. Boro can’t score goals. Alvaro Negredo has led the line admirably while Rudi Gestede has yet to erupt. Sending Jordan Rhodes on loan to Sheffield Wednesday was almost the catalyst to their demise in form and the loss of faith in the manager.
Daniel Ayala and Calum Chambers look set to miss out through injury, They will need to be patient in defence and extremely well organised. In that sense, this fixture almost strangely suits their capabilities.
The likes of De Roon and Forshaw will work manfully in midfield while their back four holds a solid line. Traore confounds me. He could be the quickest player in the league and as such should be a huge threat. But he seems to lack basic ball control and will likely start on the bench as Ramirez and Stuani support Negredo.
City will clearly have one eye on completing their progression to the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Saturday. Their rousing 5-3 victory over Monaco is still tenuously balanced and Guardiola will want to rest some key players. One player he should not rest is David Silva. He completely enlivened a drab City side when he came on in the second half against Stoke City. His vision and range of passing is essential in taking down sides with slightly inferior players, perhaps even more crucial than pace.
Vincent Kompany may make a return to the starting eleven while Bravo and Inheanacho could also come into the side. City will look to play their traditional 4-1-4-1 formation and spread Boro as much as possible. They may have to wait till the second half to break Boro down, tempting me away from a ballsy winning both halves option. But win they shall.
Verdict: Away to Win to Nil – 11/10
While it’s fair to say that Boro may be galvanised by the prospect of Cup salvation, they have looked poor in recent games and frankly haven’t looked like scoring. Aside from that Monaco match, City’s defensive systems have looked more compact of late. The possible presence of Bravo may hurt my prediction, but I feel fairly confident in a comfortable win for the Citizens.