Middlesbrough face Stoke City in their return to Premier League football after a long wait of 7 years. Aitor Karanka managed Boro have been busy over the summer trying to form a team capable of competing in the Premier League. Their main aim is survival and then take it from there as the boss himself iterated. Middlesbrough have landed a couple of big names this summer having signed the likes of Victor Valdes and Alvaro Negredo. They have also made some intelligent buys like Antonio Barragan, Espinosa, Fischer and Marten De Roon. Stoke City have been shrewd in the market and Mark Hughes is looking to add finishing touches to the team he has been building since last season. Joe Allen has come in to bolster the midfield while Egyptian sensation Ramadan Sobhi will look to take the League by surprise. They still need a striker to justify the creative players in the team though.
Mark Hughes has a number of issues to address while selecting the starting eleven. Shay Given is in line to start in goal after Butland was injured in training. Aside from that, Glen Johnson is also struggling to recover from a thigh injury. Arnautovic is expected to recover from a minor thigh strain to take his place in the team while Shaqiri has recovered from a knock. Ibrahim Afellay and Stephen Ireland are long-term absentees.
Karanka will be without Grant Leadbitter, Bernardo Espinosa and Daniel Ayala for the opening fixture. While Leadbitter is a relatively long-term absentee, Espinosa and Ayala will target next week as Saturday will come too soon for them.
STOKE CITY (4-2-3-1)
Given – Cameron, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters – Imbula, Whelan – Shaqiri, Bojan, Arnautovic – Biram Diouf
MIDDLESBROUGH FC (4-2-3-1)
Valdes – Nsue, Barragan, Gibson, Friend – De Roon, Clayton – Downing, Ramirez, Fischer – Negredo
PLAYERS TO WATCH
MARCO ARNAUTOVIC- The Austrian has been their most consistent performer for the last couple of seasons and looked capable of taking responsibility in the previous campaign. He is expected to recover from a minor hamstring strain and will look to pull the strings in the attacking third. His dominant nature and physical ability will make it hard for the Boro contingent to keep him on a leash. He will be ably supported by Bojan and Shaqiri.
ALVARO NEGREDO- The burly Spaniard is returning to the Premier League, albeit in contrasting circumstances. He was a part of an ensemble cast at the Etihad and struck up a lethal partnership with Sergio Aguero but at the Riverside Stadium, he will be expected to largely influence the game on his own.
Karanka prefers one man up top and Negredo will be expected to hold up play bringing the likes of Fischer and Ramirez into play as well as take the limited number of chances Boro manage to carve open. Downing’s deliveries from the flank will also be crucial to the kind of impact Negredo manages to make.
Middlesbrough will look to play to their strengths and retain their compact shape and solidity. The team has to quickly find a formula which will help them survive. Stoke will feel at home on the large pitch at the Riverside Stadium and look to nick a win on their travels early on in the season.