Manchester United vs Middlesbrough: Match preview, likely line-ups and score prediction
Manchester United host Middlesbrough on Saturday as Jose Mourinho comes up against his former assistant in Aitor Karanka. The pair were together at Real Madrid and are still close friends now. There will be no room for sentiment at Old Trafford though as Manchester United will be provided with an opportunity to close the gap on at least one of the sides above them. It was important that they had a strong end of the year to remain close to the leading pack and they have done that, but they must pick up another three points against the Teesside club.
Mourinho will be disappointed that the rest of the top six also won during the last set of fixtures, but he will know that this weekend that won’t be the case. Liverpool are traveling to face Manchester City, therefore there is an opportunity for United. They are beginning to find their form and have been excellent for periods of the last four matches. There is still room for improvement, but they are now managing to kill games off. 2017 should be a better year for the once dominant force in English football.
On the other hand, Middlesbrough are fighting at the bottom of the table and will know that this match carries less importance for them. They can play with freedom and know that this match won’t determine the fate of their season. It is more of less a free hit and that makes them a dangerous opposition for Manchester United. They are built on good foundations and have the joint-fifth best defence in the league. It won’t be an easy win for the home side.
Manchester United have won their last four fixtures and are now only four points off a Champions League place. They haven’t been beaten since the end of October and are slowly building the momentum required to make a major push in 2017. It is likely that they will make additions in January, but they first need to finish the year with a win to keep the pressure on the sides above them.
Middlesbrough have picked up only two wins from their last eight, but they are difficult to beat as they concede few goals. They will need to improve over the second half of the season if they are to avoid a relegation fight, but there are reasons for optimism on Teesside. They lost in their last outing to fellow promoted side Burnley in a close match, with only one goal separating the sides.
The only change I expect from the home side is for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to come in for Jesse Lingard. The Armenian came on to score on Boxing Day and is full of confidence at the moment. Daley Blind should retain his place after an assured performance.
Bernardo could come in for the suspended Antonio Barragan, which would mean that Calum Chambers moves to right back. I think we could see Adama Traore come into the side to add some dynamism to the attack.
Manchester United Middlesbrough
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Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly could both be fit in time to play a part against Middlesbrough. Wayne Rooney is still suffering with a thigh injury, but he could be ready to feature on Saturday.
Antonio Barragan is suspended for the visitors. Daniel Ayala and James Husband are both doubts. Viktor Fischer won’t be able to feature as he struggles with a knee injury.
Manchester United have the momentum behind them after four successive victories. They were convincing against Sunderland and played some great football as they swaggered to a 3-1 win. Jose Mourinho had voiced his concerns about the side’s inability to kill games off, but they showed that they could do that against Sunderland. I would expect them to win on Saturday against a well organised Middlesbrough side. The visitors have little attacking threat and they won’t be able to contain United for an entire 90 minutes.
Score Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 Middlesbrough
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