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Scout Report: Boro - What do Steve Agnew's direct, low-scoring side have to offer?

Sunderland take on Middlesbrough tomorrow, and with that in mind we take a look at what our North East neighbours have in store for us.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

What Has Happened Since The Last Time They Met? (1-2, 21/08/2016)

Boro's return to the big time hasn't quite gone to plan, and an immediate return to the Championship looks inevitable, even if they do win on Wednesday.

Despite what looked like some decent additions to the side, Boro simply haven't been good enough; they've won just four games this season. Aitor Karanka's ultra conservative tactics didn't help matters however, and he ultimately paid the price when he was relieved of his duties in March. Not wanting to concede is fine, but sacrificing attacking intent is another matter, and Karanka seemed unable to strike a balance between the two. 19 goals scored (joint lowest with Margate in England's top six divisions at the time) and 30 conceded in 27 games is proof of that.

Former Sunderland midfielder Steve Agnew hasn't fared much better mind you; he's won just two points from his six games in charge.


Tactics

Boro average just shy of 49% possession, and you'd expect them to look to take control of the game on Wednesday.

Their play tends to be direct. Stewart Downing has been brought back into the fold by Steve Agnew, and he, along with Adama Traore, will look to attack the wings and cross the ball for Alvaro Negredo. There's likely to be a fair amount of positional changing between the two in order to create different crossing angles, complimented by the full backs pushing forwards to create overlap situations. No player in the Premier League has completed more take ones than Traore, and it seems likely that he will represent Boro's most dangerous creative threat.

Middlesbrough v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Negredo wins an impressive 5.2 aerial duels per game, and Boro are sure to continue their direct approach play; an average of 77 long balls per game is the league's third highest amount. It's important that Sunderland react to the second ball - there can be no repeats of the West Ham game where Darron Gibson allowed Andre Ayew a free run to score the opener.


Strengths

Boro's biggest strength, before Steve Agnew took over at least, was their defensive record. As the interim boss looks to be more adventurous in attack, that solidity has inevitably suffered. But they still remain strong in this area. They win 20 tackles per game, the league's highest total, while making 14.7 interceptions.

They've been shown to be pretty adept when it comes to restricting the opposition in general, despite their rate of conceding in recent outings. They allow 13.9 shots per game, which is far from the league's worst total, while 28.6 clearances, 3.8 shot blocks, 3.7 cross blocks and 8.2 pass blocks represent impressive numbers. They still own the league's 10th best defensive record with just 43 goals conceded, in spite of their recent form.

Middlesbrough v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

They're also strong in the air, winning 20.5 and 50% of their aerial duels per game. And with 65% take on success, only Arsenal and Manchester City fare better. Adama Traore has completed the most take-ons in the league, but has created just 17 chances. Nonetheless, he represents one of Boro's biggest attacking threats.


Weaknesses

While Boro have shown to be pretty decent at keeping goals out, they've really struggled to score them at the other end. 23 goals is not only the worst in the Premier League, but the worst in England's top six divisions.

And it's not really a surprise. Their 9.3 shots, and 2.6 on target, represent the league's lowest totals, while only West Ham have shot with less accuracy than Boro (40%). They've also created just 216 chances - only Sunderland have created less.

Middlesbrough v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Boro are overly reliant on Alvaro Negredo; he's scored 34% of their goals with a measly eight. Only three of his teammates have scored more than one - Cristhian Stuani, Marten de Roon and Gaston Ramirez.

And while Boro are strong in the air, only five of their goals have been scored from set pieces. Again, only Sunderland have scored fewer.


Key Player - Alvaro Negredo

Sunderland's weakness in the air was exposed once again against West Ham last time out, and the on-loan Valencia forward will look to exploit this on Wednesday having won an impressive 5.2 aerial duels per game.

Middlesbrough v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The former Manchester City man, nicknamed 'The Beast', has scored eight of Boro's measly 23 goals this season (34%) and has contributed a further four assists. Boro's play is likely to go through him; it's vital that Sunderland tame La Fiera.


Match Facts

  • Middlesbrough have failed to win their last 16 games;
  • Middlesbrough have won just one of their last 10 North East derby games (D6, L3) - that came against Sunderland earlier in the season;
  • These two clubs are the lowest scoring teams in the Premier League: Boro have 23, Sunderland have 26;
  • Middlesbrough have played out seven 0-0 draws, just two shy of the league record for most in a season;
  • The Riverside has seen less goals than any other stadium this season: 32 (F13, A19);
  • Jermain Defoe has not scored a goal for eight games and 765 minutes since netting at Crystal Palace.

Likely Line-Up

Middlesbrough - Football tactics and formations