Friday, 28 October 2016

Rival Lines: Boro are short of creative players, says For the Love of Boro

Rival Lines
Match Preview
Middlesbrough v AFCB

Blogger Interview: For the Love of Boro
Twitter @4TheLoveOfBoro 

I had a bit of a shock when I looked up the For the Love of Boro before the match this week. We have written a few rival lines with James Stevenson who writes for the blog, but there had been no new articles there since February. I wondered if the Love of Boro had been fading, but James was quick to reply and tell me that he has been hard at work in the Northeast and his job has prevented him from being able to report back from games, so the blog has taken a back seat. But fear not, the Love of Boro is still strong and he is tweeting his thoughts after most games.
CC: Home form has been tripping Boro up it seems, is there any reason why it hasn't quite happened for you at home yet?

FTLOB: Personally, I don’t think there is. Currently we have won one game from our first nine and that was against struggling Sunderland. Not ideal and our record so far could, possibly should, be better. First game against Stoke we started brightly and should have seen it out, failing to take our chances. Against Crystal Palace we made defensive errors but apart from their goals we still did enough to get at least a point in my opinion. Spurs we were outclassed until the second half when we realised we shouldn’t be showing them so much respect. By which time it was too late. While our last home game against Watford (which was dreadful) neither team deserved to win. But they nicked a goal with a great strike and went on to win. They didn’t look like hurting us until they scored. Cutting out the mistakes and showing more attacking intent both at home and away is what needs to happen. It’s a shame we haven’t got a victory yet at home considering we have had some winnable games, which makes this weekend even more important for us.

CC: Like Eddie Howe last season, Karanka has come under pressure to change Boro's style, but does Aitor Karanka only know one way of playing?

FTLOB: He has his own philosophy, as most managers do. One that ultimately proved successful in the Championship last season. Even if at times it was still brought into question. But he got us back up into the premier league which was the most important thing. Having a strong base in our defence to build upon from last season I thought, as I’m sure most Boro fans did, that Karanka would look to expand his philosophy to bring a more attacking side to our game. The signings of Alvaro Negredo, Victor Fischer and Adama Traore all hinted at such. So far I am yet to see that. A good defence will only get you so far. Football is about winning games and that means you need to score goals. I think it is clear for all to see why we don’t score many goals. Karanka has a lot to answer for there.

CC: Are Boro fans generally realistic about what Aitor Karanka can do this season and will they stick behind him and the team or are there already some discontented voices?

FTLOB: Before the season started, when we made signings of the calibre of Negredo and Victor Valdes there was a sense of optimism that we could not only stay up but thrive and be a mid-table side as soon as this season. But I think fans are becoming more realistic. To stay in the premier league is the aim, anything more is a bonus. It’s only the stubbornness of Karanka not to grab a game by the scruff of it’s neck that ultimately frustrates. The point at Arsenal last weekend has hopefully boosted everyone. But how long will it last? Who knows…

CC: Middlesbrough lead the stats for tackles last time I looked, but have they got the talent to create enough chances for the forwards, as you were second bottom to Burnley in shots before last weekend's match with Arsenal?

FTLOB: Yes we have quite a few who like a tackle! Antonio Barragan leads the way for tackles this season and has probably been our most impressive summer acquisition so far. As for creating chances. We have talent to create the chances. Whether we have enough is the big question. The other is why do we not take our chances? We’ve been asking that for years! Fischer and Traore are young and while they have potential, can’t be relied upon. Selling Albert Adomah who, while he had never played in the premier league was an experienced player and knew how Karanka likes to play, was disappointing. But his replacement Traore is beginning to impress. Even so creative reinforcements with some top flight experience wouldn’t go a miss in January.

CC: Christian Stuani has been a plus point do you think he needed time to settle on Teesside?

FTLOB: He started really well for us when we signed him last season. But then the goals dried up for a long time mid-season. However, he still finished the season as our top goal scorer in all competitions even with that drought. He is an interesting player because you often don’t see too much of him and then he goes and bags a goal from nowhere. One of those players who is always in the right place at the right time and seems to have a knack for scoring important goals. Has been a shrewd and sometimes undervalued signing by Karanka in my opinion.

CC: Which was the better buy, striker Alvaro Negredo or keeper Victor Valdes?
FTLOB: Good question. Most would say Negredo and I’d say Negredo too. He just needs the service to score goals. As for Valdes I’m concerned that his best days are behind him. But he produced his best display yet for us against Arsenak last week and with it his first clean sheet. So maybe I’m wrong. I hope so.

CC: How big a miss has captain Grant Leadbitter been?

FTLOB: If were we still in the Championship I would say a massive miss. But Adam Clayton was arguably our best player last season and new signing Marten De Roon cost us around £12 million so big things are expected from him. However, the emergence of Adam Forshaw has been the big plus for us so far. He has made it almost impossible for Karanka to leave him out. Personally, I feel vindicated because I felt last season he deserved a chance and it was only because Leadbitter was captain that he didn’t get in the team. But he got the opportunity after 15 minutes of the first game of the season when De Roon went off injured against Stoke and hasn’t looked back.

CC: What do you make of how the team played in your last game against Arsenal?
FTLOB: Very impressed. No one expected us to get anything out of the game let alone almost win it! With the chances we had we probably should have won it too. We saw the same defensive solidity that we’d become accustomed to last season for the first time in the premier league and Karanka finally unleashed Traore who had been pushing for a start with his cameos from the bench recently. I hope he starts again on Saturday. His speed is unbelievable!

CC: You play Bournemouth in and amongst probably the hardest run of fixtures you could get, but does that make it a must win game?

FTLOB: Considering we have yet to register a home win this season I think it does. We play Man City away, Chelsea home and Leicester away next month so it is vital we pick up three points on Saturday.

CC: What changes do you hope to see in the Middlesbrough line up to play AFCB?

FTLOB: None. The changes that needed to be made were made for last weekend’s game at Arsenal and it was our best display of the season so far. It’s hard to argue against being unchanged. But Karanka can be unpredictable. Whether of not to give Traore his first home start is the big call. He deserves it after his performance last week. I think fans will be disappointed if he doesn’t start.

CC: Is there a Bournemouth player that you would like to see come to Middlesbrough?

FTLOB: Might seem an obvious choice but can’t see how I can go for anyone else. Callum Wilson is a goal scorer. Something we are missing is a player who will put the ball in the back of the net more often than not. He probably wouldn’t fit our system. Karanka preferring a big strong centre forward. But if I had to choose one player from your side it would be Wilson.

CC: I really enjoyed the chat with James, he really knows his stuff on the Boro and I don't think we;d get a better insight into how the team is playing at the moment. It is a pity that his site is not quite up to date at the moment, but you can still read much about Middlesbrough's last few seasons on the For the Love of Boro website.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Consistency is now the message for the AFCB players

Eddie Howe called for consistency after the match against Spurs. While the Cherries now have 12 points and are three points ahead of the point a game stat, they are at the start of the campaign with a knowledge that they can live with the best sides only when they play at their very best.

A slight drop off in performance levels would soon bring about a downfall and it is important to keep driving for more when the relegation zone is only three defeats away. Having now been in the Premier League for a season and a quarter,  I do see a change in mentality from the side when it comes up against the most talented sides. AFCB do have to work harder against these top teams, but they are also now able to play their usual game. Eddie Howe will be most pleased that the side did impose itself on Spurs rather than just react.
AFCB players after another valuable point against Spurs.
AFCB battled for the ball as well. There has been a tendency in the past to stand off and just hold the shape when being pushed back, but in the second half there was a carefully carried out plan to get players forward quickly when Spurs had the ball robbed from them. Max Gradel almost got through on one occasion at the end, but just did not have the legs to make a telling pass or get a shot away. It was that last bit of magic that was just missing against Spurs.
Broom Hill Garden Buildings

The point was grounded in doing the simple thing swell. Marking up and chasing down players was a must and the space was always cut down as soon as Spurs tried to get in behind. I do think that AFCB's centre-back pairing of Steve Cook and Simon Francis are improving massively on what they could offer in that first game against Man Utd. There is confidence flowing through the team now and another clean sheet is something to be proud of, but we need to see that defensive control every week. AFCB are now fourth in the clean sheet stakes, behind Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea.

AFCB have the intensity to trouble any side

Earlier in the season, AFCB were accused of losing some of their intensity. Their was no one saying that though after their display against Spurs. AFCB are best when they get after sides and this was a match when Edie Howe was well aware that that could not just sit back and soak up the pressure.

I heard from one pf the pundits after the match that Bournemouth did a Spurs on Spurs. They hounded and harried the likes of Dier and Vertonghen at the back and to stop Spurs playing out from the back was very impressive, but even at half time the possession was well in Spurs' hands at 60.1 per cent and this was extended to 62 per cent on 90 minutes. AFCB did compete and they did stop Spurs from having many shots on target, apart from a few outside the box and one or two when Lamela and Rose tried to score from acute angles in the box.
High intensity game is rewarding the Cherries.
Strangely AFCB only had the one shot on target though, so as an offensive force they were not able to exert as much pressure on the Tottenham goal as might have been thought by those watching the game at the time. Hugo Lloris was not that busy. But where AFCB did well was in drawing fouls and a lot of that came on players like Adam Smith and Dan Gosling deciding to run at Spurs, rather than just look for the first off-load pass. Turning defence into a fast attack is where Spurs had to be careful against Bournemouth, as when they did not get that early tackle in there was a good chance that King or Wilson would eventually get a run on goal. Therefore, the midfield scrap was truly intense and it's no surprise that Harry Arter was the fulcrum of most of AFCB's good work, as he was in his element in putting in crunching tackles and using his strength to get his foot in.

The side also went in groups to attack Spurs players on the ball and Lloris was forced to clear long on several occasions. These are all things that Howe has learnt since the last time AFCB played Spurs and even if they did not have Harry Kane to hit long, it was evident that Dier and Dambele were often choosing to go long just to avoid getting caught in the Harry Arter road block in midfield. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Surman's rest may be good for AFCB long term

Feeling unwell and drained of energy, there was only a few moments to get a glimpse of Andrew Surman on Saturday as he tried to do a warm up for the game against Spurs. Sadly, he did not feel right and made the decision to pull out of the squad which means he broke his Premier League length of unbroken starts that stretched back 46 games.
Andrew Surman will be looking to get back in contention for the trip to Middlesbrough.
It was an unusual midfield then for the Cherries with Dan Gosling and Harry Arter pairing up to hold up the top performers in a Spurs side that were unbeaten in 2016/17. Surman would have been very keen to continue his run, but it was better for him that he decided to make the best decision he could for the team. Having played so many games, it may in fact be of benefit for AFCB and even Surman to be able to have a weekend when he has not been involved in playing 90 minutes. He has been such a great servant for the club and if it gives him more energy for the coming games it could have been a small blessing. It also gave Dan Gosling the chance to get some quality minutes on the pitch, which could come in handy for him if he is to fill in again at some point.

Surman has been described as the metronome of the side and with him sitting out this game I was worried that the tempo might slip. I needn't have been concerned as AFCB went right after Spurs and the high energy displayed would have been asking a lot of Surman if he did not feel 100 per cent. While it may seem that players get a long time to recover from games, there is a high pressure on them to perform week in and week out and the body does need recovery time. The strength on AFCB's squad though is now being seen. Some may criticise that not everyone is getting games, but we have seen that players like Dan Gosling can come in and do a job when a regular like Andrew Surman has to withdraw.

Simon Francis is another player that played every game last season and has played all nine Premier League game this season so he will move ahead of Surman on that stat. Charlie Daniels is also just one game behind Francis having missed one match last season. Some of the secret of AFCB's success has surely been the consistency of the player selection and it seems to be in attack and on the wings that the side has seen the most need to rest players.

AFCB are now at home in Premier League

Well I said I'd say more about the home form after the last two games. While the thrashing of Hull City was remarkable it was the draw with Spurs that gives fans a real belief that the Cherries are making great strides now in the Premier League.

Going 'toe-to-toe' as people say with the big boys is something that AFCB have been striving for. You can say the Everton home win was a big step as well in that direction, but the home form is certainly going to bring AFCB far more points than last season if they can keep it up. There has not been a great change in the way the team has played against other sides at Dean Court, but the need to dominate at home has really gotten through to the players. The real work has come since the League Cup defeat against Preston North End. That match was a bad night for the squad and it resonated through the club.
AFCB are really enjoying the home games.
It is staggering that 10 of AFCB's 12 points have come from home games as they have not played that poorly away from Dean Court. Getting away wins has not been a major obstacle though for AFCB in recent years. They have a good opportunity now against improving Middlesbrough and Stoke City in November to up their away performances before taking on Arsenal. 

Broom Hill Garden Buildings

The home match against Sunderland will have a different pressure on the players though as they will be expected to go and get the three points against a team already fighting for its Premier League survival. AFCB will need to take the same attitude into that game as they did when they took on Hull City. Playing Spurs was very different as AFCB did not have the ball for large spells of the game, but they dug in and even came back towards the end of the second half. That new resilience against a top four side is just as satisfying as seeing the side slot their chances away as they did against Hull City.

It is the games against Arsenal and Liverpool in a month's time though that will be another guide to whether AFCB can really slug it our with the big boys. At the moment though the only focus should be on points accumulation and getting to those games in as good a shape as possible. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Gosling was well up to the task of stepping in for Surman

Dan Gosling has been waiting since the Preston game to get another crack at a midfield start, and his sudden inclusion in the starting line up against Spurs did not seem to weaken the side at all. Whether that says more of what Gosling has to offer or not, I believe he is a player that has a wise head and is very good to turn to when their is a bit of an emergency.
Dan Gosling created the best chance of the
Spurs game for AFCB, crossing for Charlie Daniels.

Eddie Howe could have turned to Nathan Aké on Saturday to cover for Andrew Surman, but it was Gosling that has the real intent in his game to get forward in support. He is one of those box-to-box players that was needed against a very quick passing Spurs who had, I admit, destroyed AFCB last season. In such matches last season, AFCB had looked to smother the opposition with five across midfield, but then it was more like a line of five. Now,  AFCB seem to play the one up, with three close in behind, and the two central midfielders lying deeper, which still allows the wing backs to get forward and push teams back. Gosling was key in getting as many tackles in as he could to then give the ball to forward runners.

Broom Hill Garden Buildings

I'm glad it is Eddie Howe that has to decide between the central midfield players as to who is best to play, as Gosling must be knocking on that door fairly regularly and yet Surman has always been the man that has been picked ahead of him. While I think Dan Gosling offers more in terms of a goal threat, it is Surman that does a lot of the dirty work for the team in winning the ball back much of the time. I imagine Surman will be back in place for the next match, but I hope Eddie Howe heaps a lot of praise on Gosling privately for his performance against Spurs, as it was strong and worthy of special mention considering his late call up into the team on Saturday.

Charlie Daniels came close to earning Cherries a huge win

Who would have thought that Charlie Daniels would be the player that would come closest to getting a winner against Spurs? Considering that Charlie opened the scoring against Hull City as well, there is a case for opposition sides being a bit wary of Charlie as he strides into the box.
Charlie keeps getting into great scoring positions.
Charlie might not be the best finisher in the team but when he hits a shot it stays hit. Against Spurs it may have been better for him to have tried to dink his shot to beat Hugo Lloris. Still Charlie was yet again getting into a position where he could make the difference for AFCB and possibly get a goal which is great to see. While AFCB tend to get defenders forward they have started to get a good balance where they don't over commit. The speed of some of the players like Adam Smith, Simon Francis and Steve Cook is often underrated, but these defenders can put on a turn of pace to get back and cover when moves break down.

It is also notable that the defenders are getting in on the goal act these days. While Charlie has lost his penalty kick duties to Junior Stanislas, I wonder who might have taken a spot kick against Spurs if one had come along with Junior not on the pitch. I'm not sure Callum Wilson would have stood in the way of Charlie if he had grabbed the ball. Goal scoring might not be the main reason why Charlie is picked every week, but it is pleasing that so many of the defenders are adaptable and can strike the ball well.

At present Charlie has scored four times in the Premier League in 46 games which is almost one in 10 games and he has made six assists in those matches, but the record he'll probably be most keen on extending is the 10 clean sheets