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Middlesbrough (h) - Tues 19:45 - What Can We Expect?

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19 hours ago, Davefevs said:


Middlesbrough: [Tuesday 20th October – 19:45] – What can we expect?

How do you write a tactical preview of City’s next opponents (Middlesbrough) without it becoming all about their manager?  You don’t.….so moving straight on.

The Manager:

Needs no introduction, it’s the 71-year-old Sheffield-born, Pantomime Villain, Neil Warnock (also known by other names)!  A winger in his playing days, he made over 300 appearances, scoring 36 goals for teams mainly in the north of the country.  He started his managerial career at Gainsborough Trinity (aged 32), then Burton, before his first success arrived at Scarborough, getting them promoted to the Football League.


Pic 1 - Warnock in relaxed mode on the touchline!

His career then took him to Notts County, Torquay, Huddersfield, Plymouth, Oldham and Bury before a long spell at Sheffield United where he developed some really good young players.  From there he went to Crystal Palace (twice), QPR (twice), Leeds, Rotherham, Cardiff and now Boro.  He has achieved 8 promotions in all, and a love-hate relationship with Bristol City in the process.  

Season so far:

Boro have made a solid start.  After an opening weekend defeat to Watford, they have gone four games unbeaten, winning one and drawing three to find themselves in 15th place going into this fixture, but only one point off 9th in a very congested middle of the table


Pic 2 - Boro in 15th place [BBC Sport]


Not a huge amount of money has been spent in the Championship and Boro have followed that trend.  Boro are not only impacted by Covid but the reality of no longer receiving parachute payments (since 2019) and expectations in the transfer window have been adjusted accordingly.  Over the summer Boro have seen a lot of experience leave the club, especially at centre-back


§  Chuba Akpom – £2.7m from PAOK Salonika

§  Sam Morsy – undisclosed from Wigan

§  Grant Hall – free (QPR)

§  Marcus Bettinelli – loan from Fulham

§  Patrick Roberts – loan from Manchester City


§  George Friend – free (Birmingham)

§  Adam Clayton – free (Birmingham)

§  Daniel Ayala – free (Blackburn)

§  Ryan Shotton – free (unattached)

§  Rudy Gestede – free (unattached)

Formation / System:

Warnock has been a huge advocate of 442 over the years with two banks of four, direct football and physicality the common traits.  However, since his return to management after the sacking of Woodgate, he’s adopted a 352 and less emphasis on long balls from the back.


Pic 3 – 352 versus Reading on Saturday) [Wyscout]

This has been his starting line-up in the last 2 games, although Warnock switched to 4141 at half-time on Saturday versus Reading with Marvin Johnson replacing Britt Assombalonga, Marc Bola moving to left-back and Anfernee Dijksteel to right-back. 


Pic 4 - Boro switch from a 352 to a 4141 at half-time versus Reading [Wyscout]

Missing diagonals:

With ball players at wing-back (Tavernier and Bola) and side centre-back (Dijksteel and McNair) we are seeing a bit more football played in open play than we normally do from Warnock teams.


Pic 5 – Dijksteel’s pass map versus Reading [Wyscout]


Pic 6 - McNair's pass map versus Reading [Wyscout]

We can see from the centre-back’s specifically that there are few sweeping diagonals.  There are however straighter balls from McNair into the forwards, where the likes of Assombalonga, Fletcher or Akpom have a physical presence, get the ball under control and allow Boro to play from there.  It’s not dissimilar to how City have to play into Martin at times.


Pic 7 - Bettinelli's pass map versus Reading [Wyscout]

Boro’s keeper, Bettinelli, however is not a part of open play, and will go long in the main (87% of all passes are long this season).  The centre-backs will let him kick long, re-positioning themselves higher up the pitch rather than split to receive passes.

Defensive shape:

As expected from a Warnock team, Boro are very disciplined defensively.  They aren’t a team that commit lots of players forward on the counter-attack. 


Pic 8 - Boro's defensive shape versus QPR

We can see above that Boro’s three centre-backs are in good position, with the defensive midfielder stopping a pass into one QPR forward and the left wing-back blocking a pass to the other.

However, what I have noticed is that Boro can defend very deep.


Pic 9 - Boro's deep centre-back line versus QPR

With the ball 35-40 yards from goal, there is little pressure on the ball, and the QPR midfielder can progress with the ball centrally or pass it into the channel to the onrushing wide player.  As the move progresses, Boro’s defence holds it line, but the QPR wide player is played in, makes a dangerous cross but it is ultimately cleared. 


Attacking – Corners

A big focus for many sides is to take advantage of corners and Boro are no different.  


Pic 10 – near post corner versus QPR

Boro use a bog-standard near post routine, where a group of four players bunch together and then make multiple runs just before McNair delivers the corner.  Here we see Akpom dart to the near post and Fry run around the back.


Pic 11 - McNair delivers the corner for Akpom to head into the goal

McNair whips the ball perfectly into the near post area, Akpom has stolen half a yard on his marker and a deft flick sends the ball into the back of the net.  It is worth noting the Boro player blocking the QPR keeper who is therefore unable to react.  We saw yesterday how Cauley Woodrow’s presence caused O’Leary to be a bit flat-footed for their opening goal.  City will need to be aware of this, as well as our set up without defenders on the posts.  

Attacking – free-kicks

McNair is again at the centre of Boro’s threat.


Pic 12 - McNair with a free-kick from the left versus Reading

In the above set-piece Boro flood the penalty area with 5 attackers with Tavernier (7) and Morsy (5) on the edge of the box.  There is no Reading player ready to attack the half-clearance.  McNair hits the ball in with pace, Reading defend it to the edge of the box where Tavernier is lurking.  He volleys it towards goal, and amongst a group of bodies, Saville finds Howson, who tucks the ball home, only to be ruled out for offside. 


Pic 13 - McNair goes for goal from 30 yards versus Barnsley

In this example, McNair takes a pop from fully 30-yards.  He rattles the crossbar, and in the melee that ensues the ball breaks to Howson (16 – circled) to smash home.  Two things to concern City, 1) McNair’s accuracy with either foot, 2) Howson finding himself free in goalscoring situations.  In Howson’s case, this is not something you usually associate him with.  Assombalonga will also take free-kicks from this range too, providing a different option.

Possible Line-up:

GK: Marcus Bettinelli (28) – signed on a season’s loan from Fulham and previously received an England senior call-up.  Decent keeper but likes his theatrics from any aerial challenges.  Hopefully a strong referee won’t be swayed by his antics.  Likely to continue on the bench is Dejan Stojanovic (27) - signed from Swiss team St Gallen in January for £1m and made an impressive start with 3 clean sheets in 6 starts.  Born in Austria with North Macedonia descent, he has previously played for Bologna and Crotone in Italy.

RCB: Anfernee Dijksteel (23) - former Barnsley full back linked with City last summer, the Dutch / Suriname fullback has been converted into a right sided centre-back at Boro.  Arrived from Charlton for £2m and reminds me of Mark Little with his powerful runs forward with the ball

CB: Dael Fry (23) – former England u21 international tipped to be a Premier League player.  Come through the ranks and 100 appearances to his name.  Happy with the ball at his feet, but I’ve always thought he might lack that necessary extra yard of pace to go all the way.

LCB: Paddy McNair (25) – ex Manchester United and Sunderland midfielder who has been switched to centre-back this season.  Comfortable on the ball and capable of bring the ball out from the back, he is their main set-piece threat and my DANGERMAN.  Cost £5m back in the summer of 2018.  Northern Ireland international with 34 caps.


Pic 14 - Paddy McNair in action for his country

RWB: Marcus Tavernier (21) - young midfielder who's come through the ranks and looks to have a bright future.  Can play on either side and has 10 goals and 8 assists in 50 starts (32 subs).

LWB: Marc Bola (22) – T-Rex puns aplenty for this “20th Century Boy”.  The former Arsenal youngster found “Life’s A Gas” whilst on a loan north of the river and liked to “Get It On” down the left wing for Blackpool which prompted a move to Boro. 

RCM: Sam Morsy (29) – former Chesterfield man who arrived from Wigan in the summer for a nominal fee.  Combative midfielder who can play too.  Been on City’s radar in the past.

CM: Johnny Howson (32) - former Leeds and Norwich man who signed for Boro in the summer of 2017 for £5m.  Good midfielder at this level with a bit of everything.  Not one to give time on the ball around the box or in midfield where he can pull the strings.  Over 500 career appearances and 50 goals.

LCM: George Saville (27) - ex-City loanee during 14/15 promotion season, who was a key part of a good Millwall side.  Nice on the ball and added some steel since he left us.  Another Northern Ireland international with 21 caps, Saville started at Chelsea before moving to Wolves.  Cost Boro £7m in January 2019.

CF: Ashley Fletcher (25) - former Manchester United youngster whose loan to Barnsley opened the door for Marcus Rashford to burst on the scene. Can be a real handful at 6'4" and with pace too.  Not a clinical finisher (famous last words) but top scorer last season with 12.  Fletcher is struggling with a calf injury so it is likely that Chuba Akpom(25) – the ex-Arsenal youngster will keep his place.  He signed in this window from PAOK Salonika for £2.7m and has notched twice in three starts.

CF: Britt Assombalonga (27) - there's barely been a transfer window since summer 2013 where Britt hasn't been linked with City.  Strong, centre forward with perhaps a slightly worse goal record than you'd expect.  Our CBs will need to expect a lot of balls into his chest / feet or down the sides for him to roll / spin.  Yet to score this season but scored in City’s 3-1 win at the Riverside post-Covid.

Other Players of note:

Djed Spence (20) - young wing-back signed from Fulham in 2018, who got good game time last season.

Lewis Wing (25) - good technical player with an eye for a long shot and a good scoring record for a midfielder.  In and out of the side so far this season.

Marvin Johnson (29) – left footed wide-man who can play either side.  Signed from Oxford for £2.5m in 2017 and subsequently had a loan spell at Sheffield United in 2018/19.

Hayden Coulson (22) - roving full-back who likes a dribble.  Came through the ranks and experienced loans at St Mirren and Cambridge before breaking through last season.

Patrick Roberts (23) - ex-Man City and Celtic winger who started at Fulham.  He caused us a lot of problems as a substitute in July with his tricky dribbling and only signed on loan (again) last week.

How do we beat Boro?

I’m hoping City’s 3-1 win at the Riverside in July and the earlier 1-0 win over Cardiff a year ago which prompted Warnock to lose his job has broken any hoodoo he has over us.

Learning from Saturday – when to play / when not to play:

City’s last two matches (away at Forest and Barnsley) have been end-to-end games but I suspect this match will be a little more sedate with Boro happy to sit in and make City play in front of them.  The emphasis will therefore be on City to attack, with Boro knowing they can spring Assombalonga or Akpom quickly if they can steal possession.

On Saturday, our centre-backs were too keen to go back to Max O’Leary, rather than ping Chris Martin to bypass Barnsley’s frenetic press which stopped us playing through Bakinson, Weimann and Paterson.  Holden talked specifically about using this option in his interview on Geoff Twentyman’s Sound of the City at the start of the season.

O’Leary received 31 passes and of his total of 47 passes made, 27 went long.  These longer passes are of greater distance than if played from our centre-backs and therefore contain a higher risk of turning over possession.


Pic 15 - O'Leary's long passes versus Barnsley [Wyscout]

Whether it was a specific tactic from Barnsley to target O’Leary in goal I don’t know, but in comparison to Dan Bentley who receives 14 passes, makes 23 passes of which 8 are long (per game on average) it was a significant difference and meant City rarely controlled possession in the first half.  In some respects we tried to play from too deep a position.

It will be different against Boro who don’t press like Barnsley.  City are going to be faced with trying to penetrate a well-structured defensive shape and are going to need to move Howson and Morsy (both good holding midfielders) out of position.


Pic 16 - Howson sucked wide versus Watford

Here we see Johnny Howson (16) dragged out of position by Watford’s (10) Joao Pedro.  Pedro is good enough to turn Howson and drive into the space left behind where he can then face up Boro’s centre-backs.  This was achieved quite simply by Watford’s left sided centre-back Wilmot (6) moving forward with the ball against a lazy press from Assombalonga (9) into the space vacated by the high-positioned Watford left-wingback who has dragged Boro’s right wing-back Djed Spence deep.  

If we imagine this with City, its Mawson moving into the space created by the unselfish Jay Dasilva or Tommy Rowe who are pinning back RWB Tavernier therefore allowing Paterson or Weimann to drag Howson or Morsy from their protective centre of the pitch position.

On the other side it could be Vyner (or Moore) using the gap left by Hunt who’s pinning back Bola. 


In what could be an evening of chances being hard to come by, City might have to settle for their own set-pieces being the best hope.


Pic 17 - Boro's markers get blocked to create a big gap on the penalty spot

In the corner routine above, Watford line-up in the 6-yard box expecting delivery on top of the Boro keeper.  However, Pedro gets away from Saville and makes his way to the penalty spot (green circle), whilst the other Watford player purposely blocks Saville from tracking him.  Despite conceding from a corner against Barnsley on Saturday, City have generally looked solid defensively, whilst Kalas’s goal against Coventry has showed they can score from their own dead-balls too.  We also are seeing some innovative starting positions from City’s runners at set-pieces, which may cause Boro some problems in who is marking who.

One final point on set-pieces.  City have massively improved their quality from throw-ins in the opposition half this season.  Often taken for granted, City appeared to have no real method last season, often going backwards from taker to centre-back and then back to the keeper.  Great for the percentages, but not for us fans watching and seeing the opposition defence able to reset and then stifle City.  There is a real difference this season, with players blocking runs to get a player free to receive the ball or just generally making good, unselfish movement to help out the thrower.


Pic 18 - Paterson comes short to receive a throw-in from Hunt versus Barnsley

Nothing remarkable about this throw-in apart from Jack Hunt was switched on to Paterson’s run as soon as he picked up the ball and got into position.  Barnsley weren’t set.


Pic 19 - Paterson lays it off back to Hunt

Paterson cushion-volleys it back to Hunt, but importantly runs in behind both Barnsley defenders, who are drawn towards Hunt.  Hunt exquisitely scoops the ball back to Paterson who plays in Nahki Wells.  So simple, but it led to a Wells shot from a tight angle that the Barnsley keeper could only push out to the onrushing Bakinson to side-foot (via a deflection) City into a 2-1 lead.  Little things like this are key to opening up Boro on Tuesday evening.


Probably going to be a game lacking the goalmouth action of previous few fixtures, but I see City sneaking it.

Bristol City 1:0 Middlesbrough




Thanks Dave.

When's your next book coming out?


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27 minutes ago, CiderHider said:

Hey no way you're famous now 😃


Yes, they get the same “copy” as OTIB get.  The Editor changes a few pictures due to image library rights stuff.

Toby on Robinstv usually has each page sellotaped to the desk....looks like he’s the rain covers on them tonight.


Edited by Davefevs
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Tough game this evening. A great opportunity to get ourselves up to 16 points already, but I'm just feeling we might draw this one 1-1.

Will be interesting to see if we decide to make changes.

Come on boys, do us proud.


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2 minutes ago, EstoniaTallinnRed said:

Is this the official matchday thread?

Not really, although it fairly often becomes the de facto match day thread.

On team - I think we all expect Kalas to start in place of Vyner, and Bentley will be back in if fit. Martin I expect to be rested for this one. 

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I'd like to make an official complaint

At no point in your "what to expect" did you mention we'd gift three points to Boro, followed by a melt down on OTIB ready to slate a young and talented player.

Please ensure better accuracy moving forward 


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