Middlesbrough Vs Norwich. A fixture which has Norwich supporters reminiscing over recent times, whilst sour memories of the Play-Off final in 2015 is what Boro fans envisage. Both have endured relegation since, yet now, there’s no doubting who’s more likely to bounce back to the top flight.
Norwich did the double over Boro last season, against two different managers. Although some Norwich fans may feel as though they got done overpaying £1 million for James Husband.
Boro fans did warn you!
Now onto the football, and a side which under Tony Pulis will be going into the game at Carrow Road unbeaten in all competitions, sitting in a healthy 2nd place. Pulis has moulded a team of giants and small fierce technical players together to create a fluid yet defensively sound team.
Boro will most likely set up as they have all season, in a 5-3-2 formation. Darren Randolph will no doubt start in goal, after being nominated for the EFL Championship August Player of the month award after conceding just 2 goals in the opening games of the season, both coming in the season opener against Millwall.
A gigantic back 3 of Daniel Ayala, Dael Fry and Aden Flint, the smallest there being 6ft 3 will start in front of Randolph. All 3 have different qualities, which so far have complemented each other extremely well.
Centre Back converted Right wing back is Ryan Shotton who has at times tried to replicate the Adama Traore type runs, although Norwich supporters should be warier of his throw-ins than his dribbling ability.
At Left-wing back George Friend is most likely to continue in that role, however, after a shaky game against Leeds, Pulis may opt to give a debut to Sam McQueen, who would be a much more attacking threat on the left-hand side.
A midfield trio of Adam Clayton, Jonny Howson, and Mo Besic would be mine and hopefully Pulis’s choice. Clayton sitting gives this midfield the balance needed to combat any possession-based team.
This midfield managed to contain Bielsa’s famous tiki-taka style of play, so no doubt will be able to subsume the Norwich midfield should Farke opt for a possession-based game. City fans know Jonny well, and after a slow start at Teesside, he has now started to show what he is capable of. A box-to-box player who also adds that extra bit of quality going forward Boro need.
A front two of Martin Braithwaite and Britt Assombalonga is something Grant Hanley and co. will be having nightmares about. Braithwaite is very similar to Norwich’s Pukki, finding pockets of space in front of the opposition defence. Braithwaite is Boro’s best-attacking source, stop him then you’ll more than likely stop the Boro.
However, there’s only been one team to stop the Danish International this season, and that’s because he was sat on the bench. Britt Assombalonga has split Boro fans but has no doubt got a reputation in this league to be a clinical striker every set of fans craves.
Then we have the bench. Paddy McNair, George Saville, Stewart Downing, Jordan Hugill, and Rudy Gestede are just some players who could come on and change the game.
Due to Bielsa’s heroics at Leeds United, Tony Pulis and Boro have gone under the radar so far. Yet, sit in 2nd place on equal points with the leaders. Boro has picked up 4 points from the last 2 games beating West Brom 1-0 and sharing the spoils with Leeds. Two extremely tough games at this level.
Being a Boro supporter living in Norwich, I’ve watched the East-Anglian based side a lot this season. City have looked like a side who are trying to build something, they just don’t know what that something is (Yet).
The partnership of Teemu Pukki and Ex-Boro striker Jordan Rhodes has impressed me, and no doubt Rhodes will be on the scoresheet on Saturday. As you know yourselves with returning strikers, it’s always the way.
Will Farke change the formation to compete with the 5-3-2 Pulis will deploy? I don’t think he will, but after recent performances against Leeds then Ipswich, he’s got to try it.
Norwich have looked shaky at the back and nowhere near clinical enough going forward, not a great mix. Having a back three of Hanley, Klose, and Zimmermann would help combat the huge aerial threat Boro have as all five Boro defenders are 6ft 2 plus.
Boro’s star man? I’d usually say Martin Braithwaite, but after a spectacular display at Leeds 2 weeks ago I’m going to say Boro’s academy product, Dael Fry. The centre-back featured for 90 minutes at Carrow Road last Thursday, playing for England U21’s and looking extremely comfortable.
The young defender labelled as the ‘Berwick Hills Beckenbauer’ has grown into a mainstay in Pulis’s side this season and has become increasingly confident with every game. Fry’s role within the back three is to drive forward with the ball, breaking the lines between the defense and midfield.
At times last season, especially under Monk, Boro struggled to pass and move the way up the pitch, very much becoming a block. Fry’s inclusion has helped combat this and allowed for a more fluid transition which has so far seen Boro reap the rewards.
Finally, I believe if Farke deploys the same system he has chosen so far, I can see Norwich struggling against Pulis’s organized and hardworking Boro side. Playing a back 5 would help combat Boro’s aerial threat, whilst also using Jamal Lewis and possibly Max Aarons to match and push Boro’s wing-backs back.
I’ll be hoping for the 4 at the back from Farke.
Follow Tom on Twitter, @WardleFutbol and follow @BoroPolis for all the latest Middlesbrough news and views.