Middlesbrough vs Stoke City - Match preview and predicted line-ups
Premier League football is returning to the Riverside Stadium this weekend, as Stoke City visit newly-promoted Middlesbrough. The Teesside club have been in the Championship for seven seasons and will be eager to once again consolidate themselves as a Premier League club.
They will face a tough test on the opening weekend, as Stoke continue to make shrewd moves to strengthen their squad. Mark Hughes is building something special at Stoke and they have the potential to be this season’s surprise package. A top six finish isn’t beyond The Potters.
Middlesbrough had a good pre-season and continued to look organised at the back, keeping four clean sheets in six matches. They finished their preparations with a 0-0 draw at home to Real Sociedad. Last season, they were one of the best defences in the second tier and Aitor Karanka looks set to take that into his first season as a Premier League manager.
Meanwhile, Stoke have only played four matches in pre-season, winning just one of those. Results aren’t too important in pre-season, but they can affect the confidence within the squad heading into the opening weekend. They closed their pre-season with a 1-0 defeat to Hamburg in Germany.
Boro predicted starting XI Stoke predicted starting XI
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Daniel Ayala and Bernardo are both set to miss the start of the season, which means new signing Antonio Barragan is set to deputise at centre back. He played there against Real Sociedad and did a good job. Grant Leadbitter is also set to be unavailable for the opening match, which gives Adam Clayton the opportunity to prove himself in the Premier League.
Geoff Cameron is a doubt with an illness after starting at right back against Hamburg. Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic are also doubts, but they are expected to pull through to start against Middlesbrough. Stephen Ireland and Ibrahim Afellay are set to be missing until 2017.
It is going to be a good test for Middlesbrough as they readjust to the Premier League, with Stoke City having one of the better sides in the division. The home side will be well organised and tough to break down, as they have been for the majority of Karanka’s tenure. Their form at the Riverside is key as they try to avoid relegation this season. In terms of the visitors, I think Stoke will push on this season and challenge for the top six. A draw on Saturday will suit both sides.