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Preview: Fatigue or a defeat not an option as United head to Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough v Manchester United

Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough

Premier League 2016/17

Sunday 19th March 2017; KO 12:00 GMT

Live on BT Sport

Manchester United face Middlesbrough at the Riverside at noon on Sunday, less than three days after their 1-0 (2-1 aggregate) victory over Russian side FC Rostov in the UEFA Europa League, earning a quarter-final against Belgian side Anderlecht next month. United had a tough week, losing to Chelsea in the Emirates FA Cup at Stamford Bridge on Monday evening, which saw Ander Herrera sent off and being his second of the season so far, being suspended for the next two domestic matches. On Thursday evening, United lost Paul Pogba to a hamstring injury, which will keep him out of action for a fortnight, also missing the international break, which can only be a good thing, especially with the tougher period coming from April which could see United playing a maximum of 17 matches, providing they go all the way to the final in the Europa League.

Middlesbrough may not have had a good week either. Aitor Karanka was sacked on Thursday, meaning Steve Agnew will steer the club into the match against United, which could go either of two ways; Boro continue to lose matches or all of a sudden, they pull something out of the bag and shock Jose Mourinho’s side, which would be about right from these players who seem to orchestrate the sacking of a manager, being whiter than white at the same time, it would see the players are never wrong and therefore are untouchable. Recently, by sacking a manager, Leicester City have found some good form winning twice in the Premier League, and earning a quarter-final place in the UEFA Champions League. United need to find some greater form. Being unbeaten in the league since October is alright, but if United were winning even half of their matches, of which they have drawn eight since then, their season story could be so different.

United would be sitting in second place, nine points adrift of league leaders Chelsea, which would put them in the unlikely position for a title charge, but needlessly a better position then they are ahead of the Boro match, which will see them occupying the sixth place in the league for 104 consecutive days in total. Sixth is not a great position in the league, but when you take into account that United have two fewer matches than Liverpool who are six points better off, one fewer than Chelsea (17 points better off), Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester City who are both seven points better off, it shows that the route into the top four is not all that tough. United are also a point adrift of fifth-placed Arsenal.

Mourinho’s side still have to face Chelsea (16th April), Arsenal (provisionally 6th May), Tottenham Hotspur (provisionally 13th May) and still have the Manchester derby to be arranged by the Premier League, which along with the Southampton clash, also to be arranged, can fit into two spots this season, if United made it through Anderlecht in the Europa League and then into the final, whoever their opposition would be in the semi-finals. Fatigue is something which has already struck at United with Mourinho suggesting it played a part during the 1-0 victory over Rostov at Old Trafford on Thursday. The manager spoke about the problems, saying:

“I was afraid of extra time and some players were in trouble. I know that I can bring Rashford to the game, but at the same time I am afraid because I have at least Marcos Rojo in big trouble. It was a difficult game. We have lots of enemies. Normally the enemy should be Rostov but we have lots of enemies. It is difficult to play on Monday night with 10 men, it is difficult to play now, it is difficult to play on Sunday at 12 o’clock, so we have lots of enemies. The boys were fantastic. I can imagine some people will say we should play better, we could play better, we should score more goals, we should not have so many difficulties to beat this opponent, but the reality is we have lots of things going against us and we have to fight. The boys are amazing and we will probably lose the game on Sunday but we will try our best.”

Match Officials:

Jonathan Moss will referee the match between Middlesbrough and Manchester United on Sunday. This will be the third time in the Premier League this season he has been the referee in a United fixture after overseeing the 1-0 victory over Hull City back in August, the 1-1 draw against West Ham United in November and then this match. Moss was also the referee in the EFL Cup clash with Hull City back in January which saw United beaten 2-1, but into the final on aggregate. Moss issued eight yellow cards in the three matches that have been played, booking Marouane Fellaini, Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford against Hull in the league, Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini and Antonio Valencia against West Ham and Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo against Hull in the EFL Cup. Moss was slated for not awarding penalties in United’s favour against Hull in January. Moss’ assistant referees will be Simon Bennett and Eddie Smart with the fourth official named as Robert Madley.

Form:

Manchester United LDDWW: Jose Mourinho’s side have been unbeatable in the Premier League since October when they suffered a 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Chelsea. Being unbeatable is not necessarily a good thing though as the same United side have drawn eight times in the league since then, seemingly not having enough to find that winning goal to beat their opposition. Just four of those draws being turned into wins could have seen United eight points better off this season, which at this current time would have propelled them into second place, a point better off than Tottenham Hotspur and with a game in hand over them. United, though, have had a good season. The squad seems happy, willing to play for the manager and some decent signings have been made. The next transfer window should tell more of a story as to what Mourinho has in his plans for his club.

Middlesbrough LLLWD: Middlesbrough have not had the greatest of seasons on their return to the Premier League, currently sitting 19th and likely to be relegated if the team does not pull something out of the bag after the Aitor Karanka was sacked earlier this week. The North East side have only won four Premier League matches this season, the last a 3-0 drumming of Swansea City, who at the time were having problems of their own – now sitting three points clear of the drop zone. Boro have drawn ten and lost 13 matches, which is certain to grow as the weeks pass, unless the players did a ‘Chelsea’ and stopped playing for the manager, then grinding results as we saw with the Londoners and most recently Leicester City, who sacked Claudio Ranieri, then beat Liverpool and Hull 3-1, also turning a 2-1 defeat into a 3-2 aggregate victory over Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League, earning a quarter-final place against Atletico Madrid.

Former Reds: A meeting with some old friends, this time as foes!

Victor Valdes and Fabio da Silva could be pitted against some former Manchester United teammates if they are both selected in Steve Agnew’s matchday squad to entertain the Red Devils at the Riverside on Sunday. Valdes left United as a free agent in the summer after signing an 18-month deal under the management of Louis van Gaal, making his Premier League debut at the end of the 2014/15 season. Valdes was frozen out of the United squad under the Dutch manager the following season, opting to go on loan with Standard Liege in January 2016, leaving United as a free agent at the end of last season. Fabio signed for United with twin Rafael back in 2008 and made 56 appearances, scoring three goals. He left on loan with Queens Park Rangers in the 2012/13, leaving the club permanently for Cardiff City the following summer. Fabio signed for Middlesbrough last summer. His twin, Rafael left for Lyon in the summer of 2015.

Who are the Manchester United and Middlesbrough Top Scorers this season?

Manchester United: 26 – Zlatan Ibrahimović, 10 – Juan Mata, 7 – Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, 5 – Wayne Rooney, 4 – Jesse Lingard, 2 – Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, Chris Smalling, 1 – Daley Blind, Own Goal, Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo, Bastian Schweinsteiger

Middlesbrough: 7 – Álvaro Negredo, 5 – Cristhian Stuani, 3 – Marten de Roon, Grant Leadbitter, 2 – Stewart Downing, Gastón Ramírez, 1 – Daniel Ayala, Calum Chambers, Rudy Gestede, Ben Gibson, David Nugent

Team News:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera are both suspended for the next two domestic matches; Middlesbrough (A) and West Bromwich Albion (H). Paul Pogba has been ruled out of this match after suffering what seemed like a hamstring injury against Rostov on Thursday night and he also looks set to miss the entire international break, which could see him back in action in early April. Daley Blind seemed to suffer a head injury against the Russian side too, which could see him also sidelined for this match. Bastian Schweinsteiger could be another absentee with United suffering a midfield crisis with Herrera also suspended. Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial could both be back in action, giving United further options in the attack, or even in midfield where Rooney is concerned. Middlesbrough interim boss Steve Agnew will be without Rudy Gestede, Bernardo Espinosa, Daniel Ayala, George Friend and Callum Chambers, which leaves them quite light for the visit of United, who will be looking to take their chance to move further forward in their bid to escape 104 days at sixth place in the league.

Previous Meetings:

Middlesbrough and Manchester United have played 123 matches; the first being played on the 27th January 1894 – a 4-0 victory for United in the FA Cup. United have won a total of 63 matches, drawing 28 and losing just 34. The last time Middlesbrough beat United was on the 28th October 2015 after a 0-0 draw in the League Cup with Boro winning 3-1 on penalties. The last victory inside 90 minutes goes back to the 29th October 2005 when Boro demolished United 4-1 with a brace from Gaizka Mendieta, another goal from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and a penalty scored by Yakubu Ayegbeni. Cristiano Ronaldo scored the only goal scored by United. United beat Middlesbrough 2-1 at Old Trafford on New Year’s Eve in an ill-tempered match which saw a perfectly adequate Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal disallowed, then Boro taking the lead through Grant Leadbitter in the 67th minute. United scored through Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba a minute apart in the 85th and 86th minute to give United all three points. Jose Mourinho will be looking for a similar scoreline from United in their first visit to the Riverside in nearly eight years, winning 2-0 back on the 2nd May 2009 with Ryan Giggs and Ji-Sung Park scoring both of the goals.

Starting XI Prediction: Who is going to start against Middlesbrough?

Predicted Score:

Middlesbrough 1-3 Manchester United

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