Manchester City will return from their warm weather training in Dubai that culminated into a friendly win against German club Hamburg SV, on Friday to resume their FA Cup campaign at home to Championship side Middlesbrough. After a disappointing defeat to Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium, undone by a few ordinary performances from the hosts and an extraordinarily resilient showing by the visitors, the reigning Champions found themselves 5 points below pacesetters Chelsea on the league table. A victory though on Saturday could help the club regain some momentum ahead of their trip to Stamford Bridge in what would be their make or break tie of the season arguably. Much has been talked about Lampard’s substitution after 20 minutes into the game due to fitness problems against Hamburg, but the club confirmed on twitter claiming the influential midfielder was not injured and the substitution was nothing more than a precautionary effort to keep him fit for the foreseeable future.
For Middlesbrough and Karanka, this is a chance to upset the odds by beating one of the best teams in the country by all accounts and keep their cup run going as long as they can. Boro are on a very good run at the moment, unbeaten in their last 5 games, winning three of those to move second in the Championship table, one point adrift of leaders Bournemouth. After the narrowest of defeats they had to suffer at the hands of Liverpool in the league cup where they managed to level things on normal time which ended two goals apiece, only to lose out 14-13 on penalties. Manager Aitor Karanka, a former assistant of Jose Mourinho is very hopeful ahead of the game but also duly acknowledged the sheer quality and squad depth of their opponents in his pre-match press conference. He said,
“I am looking forward to it. We are going to go to that game in the best shape. All the players will want to play well and they will want to play like they did against Liverpool. Man City are very impressive. Their squad, I watched the draw and I looked at his squad, they have amazing players. They have one of the best squads in the league but sometimes surprises can happen. There’s a big difference between us and Manchester City, but football is football.”
Samir Nasri is certain to miss out on the fixture as the midfielder is still recovering from his calf strain. Aguero could be involved at some point after the forward played 25 minutes of football against Hamburg and could get similar number of minutes on Saturday. Edin Dzeko is expected to lead the line against Boro after a fine goal in the friendly, a couple of days back.
Boro as mentioned earlier are on a good run at the moment and Karanka would not want to shake things up a bit and alter the dynamic, ahead of a game of this magnitude. He could field the same team that ground out a 2-1 win against Cardiff City on Saturday.
Manchester City, 2nd in the Premier League at this point have accrued 13 points from their last 6 games at the Etihad, scoring 11 goals during the run.
Middlesbrough, though 2nd in the Championship at the moment have failed to score in 46% of the away games so far, ranked 8th on the scoring charts in games on the road.
Edin Dzeko – Manchester City
Dzeko has had an ordinary season to be honest, at least by his standards. Injuries haven’t helped him settle down and thrive on a long run of games for City in the fact that he’s only played the whole 90 minutes once in the Premier League so far which pretty much shows the troubles he’s having physically which could have also had a dampening effect on his confidence. With just 2 goals and 2 assists in 12 appearances as the numbers go, Dzeko quite simply needs a good 90 minute performance to reinvigorate himself and what better chance one can get than a cup fixture against a lower league opposition in front of your home crowd. With the right service from an under-performing midfield and the possibility that Sergio Aguero could be rested, Edin Dzeko would be expected to deliver the goals and it could certainly turn out to be a big evening for this Bosnian on Saturday if he can do the same.
Patrick Bamford – Middlesbrough
Bamford has come of age and shown what he is capable of on a consistent basis for Karanka’s side. He’s already scored 8 goals in the Championship and 1 in the league cup at Anfield against Liverpool so he is one that is unfazed about the opponents. He’s their second highest scorer and also a player who can create goal-scoring chances for others as this 21-year old has set up 15 opportunities in 21 appearances. A commendable shot accuracy of 52% with an equally impressive 1 goal from every 3 shots on target, he comes across as a lad that can cause some damage to a currently unsettled Manchester City outfit. On loan from their City’s title rivals Chelsea, Bamford holds the key to Middlesbrough’s chances of causing an upset.
Manchester City to put their foot on the pedal and perform after the experimental UAE venture.