Middlesbrough face-off against Stoke City at the Riverside Stadium in their season opener in what will be their first match in the English Premier League after a gap of 7 long years. Middlesbrough finished 2nd in the Championship which gave them an automatic promotion to the Premier League. The Aitor Karanka managed team was the most resolute and miserly team in the league conceding only 31 goals. Defence was their cornerstone for success and this determination and ability to remain compact will help them in their quest to survive in the top-flight.
But Karanka has not been sitting on his laurels and has been working hard with the Board in identifying and signing players who he believes will be crucial in their quest for survival. Boro have surprised one and all by making signings most people would have scoffed at earlier if associated with them. Karanka used his experience and the windfall from Premier League promotion to sign experienced world-class players like Negredo and Valdes and mixed it up nicely with additions like Fischer and De Roon. Stoke will their first hurdle in what will a mammoth season for them and the team will want to give a good account of themselves here.
Aitor Karanka has said that they were looking to build a solid foundation and not something on sand which would fall like a pack of cards in the face of diversity. He is focusing on building a team for the future and ensure the club’s stay in the Premier League for the foreseeable future.
TEAM NEWS AND LIKELY LINE-UP
Karanka will be without Grant Leadbitter, Bernardo Espinosa and Daniel Ayala for the opening fixture. While Leadbitter is a relatively long term absentee, the other two have trained in the last couple of days but the match will come too soon for them.
Middlesbrough will line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Victor Valdes will most likely start ahead of former Aston Villa keeper Brad Guzan in goal. But they have issues in defence. Ben Gibson will be partnered by Antonio Barragan in central defence in all probability. Though Barragan is essentially a right back, he looked assured in their final pre-season match. Emilio Nsue and George Friend will start at right-back and left-back respectively.
New boy De Roon will partner Adam Clayton in the double pivot while Gaston Ramirez, who was permanently signed after an impressive loan spell will look to make the No.10 role his own.
There are doubts over the two flank roles but Downing is expected to get the nod in one the wings while Fischer might line up on the other side. Former Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo will lead the line.