Its nearly time for the highly anticipated return of Tony Pulis at the Britannia Stadium. The “Capped One” brings his Middlesbrough side that currently sits 3rd in the Championship table. The Potters are on a three-game unbeaten streak but they face they face their first big test in a big month with games against a resurgent Nottingham Forest and a youthful Derby County side. We dissect everything in our bid to predict a winner in this mouth-watering clash. Who will end up on top? Will it be Stoke City or Middlesbrough.
One can expect Middlesbrough to be set up in the archetypal style of Tony Pulis, which essentially is sitting deep, hitting the long ball and generally just trying to play on the counter-attack. In their recent match against Derby, the Teessiders lined up in a 3-4-2-1 formation with Paddy Mcnair and George Friend playing as the wing-backs and protecting the back three. Adam Clayton was the main creative force in the team, with Mo Besic breaking up play and Britt Assommbolonga up top, with his pace used to hit teams on the counter. Essentially, they were set up for a war of attrition, negating space for opposition players to attack, it is no mere coincidence that Middlesbrough has the meanest defense in the Championship this season.
Stoke City played in a 4-1-4-1 formation against Bristol City but they have played in a 4-4-1-1 formation against stronger opposition. The emphasis on this formation is the wide men which usually are James McClean, Saido Berahino and Tom Ince to whip in quality delivers for Benik Afobe to attack or hit the opposition on the counter using the pace of Berahino and Ince. It will be interesting whether Gary Rowett goes for McClean or Berahino on the left-hand side of the pitch, Berahino is arguably the bigger goal threat but McClean will definitely deliver more quality crosses into the box and is more sound defensively then Berahino.
Stoke City head into the match in good form, with The Potters on a three-match unbeaten streak but their record this season stands at 5 wins, 5 draws and 5 losses. They looked more defensively sound, with Jack Butland in fine form.
Middlesbrough is also in good nick, although supporters are disgruntled with their negative style of play. A win against Crystal Palace will soothe some supporters but their supporters want to see them start turning draws into wins.
A good old 0-0 draw is my prediction for this game. Both teams aren’t scoring a lot of goals and I expect that to continue. With that said, should a team nick a goal, it could be decisive.