Tottenham host Middlesbrough on Tuesday night in an FA Cup replay as Jonathan Woodgate’s side travel to the capital in resurgent form, looking to upset the odds once again after holding Jose Mourinho’s side to a draw back on Teeside.
Spurs come into the game on the back of a hard-fought defeat to Premier League leaders Liverpool, but worries up front without talisman Harry Kane have been evident in the past two games, particularly when looking to break down Middlesbrough in the meeting between the sides a week ago. Without a win in four, Spurs will be desperate to return to winning ways, and they will be hoping Championship opposition pose the perfect opportunity to do so. There were signs of life in Spurs attack against Liverpool as they crafted plenty of openings, but the wasteful Londoners were evidently missing their top scorer, and Mourinho will be hoping one of his attackers can return to form against Middlesbrough.
Middlesbrough are unbeaten in six, and fresh from a 2-2 draw with Derby on the weekend, where Duane Holmes’ stoppage time equaliser prevented the Teesiders from recording a fifth straight league victory. Woodgate’s side will be brimming with confidence given their recent run, and after holding out for a draw in the first meeting whilst causing Spurs problems, Middlesbrough will be hoping to do so once again.
The meeting between the two sides last weekend gives an indication of how both sides will approach the replay, and it was no surprise to see Spurs dominate the ball, whilst Middlesbrough sat deep and relied upon the counter attack to offer up a threat against Tottenham.
Woodgate’s side will head to the capital looking to frustrate Spurs once again, utilising a similar tactic, and the threat of the counter attack will be their best hope of getting a result from the game. Ashley Fletcher will lead the line for Middlesbrough, and his non-stop running for Woodgate’s side caused the Tottenham backline a headache, and his runs in behind eventually came to fruition as Middlesbrough were able to expose the defensive frailties that have plagued Spurs in recent weeks. The defensive line for Spurs has been an issue when playing a back three, and whether Mourinho opts to return to a back four as he did in the second half at the Riverside awaits to be seen, but if lining up with a back five, Fletcher’s running in behind will certainly be a cause for concern, and the long balls over the top will be an avenue Middlesbrough will target.
With Spurs dominating possession and looking to play on the front foot, it does leave space in behind for Middlesbrough to exploit, and whilst Fletcher showed his pace and ability to make runs in behind, he did struggle to hold up the ball at times, and he will need to see this side improve if Middlesbrough are going to have joy on the counter attack in London on Tuesday night. Woodgate lined his side up in a 5-4-1 formation, and with the same expected once again, the wing backs and wingers will be key to Middlesbrough’s hopes, and in particular avoiding Fletcher becoming too isolated up top.
Patrick Roberts impressed in the first meeting between the two sides on the Riverside, as he offered Middlesbrough a constant outlet with his dribbling ability on the ball, as well as linking up well with Fletcher, and this allowed the Teesiders to alleviate pressure throughout the game, offering a different outlet to that over the top. His ability to draw fouls out of the Spurs backline was also key in breaking the game up and allowing Middlesbrough breathing room against the dominant Spurs possession, and as alluded to earlier, this will be key to any hope they have once again. An angle worth considering will be the tackles markets on those up against the Manchester City loanee, but at time of writing these are yet to be priced.
Dael Fry and Paddy McNair shone at centre back, whilst make shift centre half Jonny Howson coped well, as most of the game was played in front of the Middlesbrough backline. Spurs threatened most when counter attacking, and Lucas Moura’s equaliser came as they caught Middlesbrough in transition, and were able to get in behind the Middlesbrough backline which is lacking in pace, and Mourinho will be hoping to find a way to get in behind the Middlesbrough backline.
Heung-Min Son and Moura are both suited to playing on the break, but Spurs’ lack of a focal point up top was evident in their draw at the Riverside, as without an out and out striker leading the line, they often lacked shape. Although the movement of the two forwards, as well as Dele Alli, did cause problems for the Middlesbrough defence as marking the fluid forward line was often an issue, the lack of tempo on the ball when controlling the ball caused Spurs problems, and meant they become predictable and easy to defend against. Reliance on the wing backs to provide crossing opportunities to break down Middlesbrough became evident quickly, and it was a second half switch to 4-4-2 which brought Spurs the most joy, allowing them to create wide overloads.
The young full backs can be targeted for Middlesbrough, however one issue for Tottenham is that even if they are able to get in behind the Middlesbrough backline, they lack a presence in the box which Kane would normally provide. Although Dele Alli’s aerial ability is noteworthy, and Moura himself netted from a cross in the reverse fixture, Fry and McNair will be confident of defending crosses throughout, and Middlesbrough will look to force Spurs to attack wide and rely upon this approach. By packing the central areas, they will hope to nullify the creative talents of the likes of Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen or Giovanni Lo Celso, depending upon who starts for Mourinho’s side.
Middlesbrough will need to put up another resilient defensive performance against Spurs on Tuesday night if they are to stand any chance of causing a cup shock, but it will be a big ask for Woodgate’s side once again, with Spurs looking to field a full-strength side once again.
As a result of Spurs reliance on wide areas to get in behind the Middlesbrough defence, as well as Woodgate’s set up to force Spurs into the wide areas, the corner markets take appeal. Middlesbrough themselves pose a threat from set pieces, as was seen in the first meeting, and will be happy to play for these opportunities on the break. As a result, I’d be looking at Over 10.5 corners, which is available at 20/21 (Boylesports), and with the first meeting seeing 18 corners for both sides, it further reinforces this.
It is hard to see Middlesbrough being able to shut out Tottenham throughout the whole game once again, and there was enough promise against Liverpool to suggest that Spurs are starting to adapt to Kane’s absence. They will be required to play at a much higher tempo and look to move the ball at pace to break down Middlesbrough, but if they do find an opener, the game should open up. If Middlesbrough are forced to come onto Mourinho’s side, the counter attack becomes a real threat, particularly with the lack of pace at the back for Woodgate’s side, and as a result Son becomes a real goalscoring threat in behind. Priced at 6/5 (Unibet), he would be the stand out option on the goal scoring market, with his threat on the break suited to causing Middlesbrough a headache if forced to chase.