Bournemouth v Middlesbrough: Should Traore start?

Adama Traore –

While the six point gap between Middlesbrough and safety might look insurmountable, matters could change quickly.

Steve Agnew’s side’s respectable goal difference of -16 means they could mathematically be out of the drop zone by Wednesday evening. To do so, they need a win in their game in hand on Hull and Swansea at home to rivals Sunderland, following up one in the West Country.

The wider question is how they get those victories, with none since mid-December. Performances have improved in the five games since Steve Agnew replaced Aitor Karanka in the dugout. We can see that the team is playing more on the front foot, even against Arsenal, where they were undone by moments of magic from Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.

This renewed intent however, has not accompanied a notably increase in quality, baring perhaps Stewart Downing’s deliveries against the Gunners. Four goals in Agnew’s five games shows incremental improvement but not strong enough to kick-start a survival push.

Their two most attacking players in the 0-0 draw with Burnley were Cristhian Stuani and Rudy Gestede, who have some aerial strength but not much pace. Alvaro Negredo came off the bench with half an hour to go and tested Tom Heaton, but Boro’s approach play in the final third remains a little one-dimension.

Bournemouth’s problems at Tottenham last week were more in their defensive third. With Andrew Surman injured and Dan Gosling a doubt, Eddie Howe did not have any natural holding players who could have made a four-man midfield work at White Hart Lane.

He perhaps should have introduced an extra central midfielder to counter-balance that problem. We saw against Chelsea that Marc Pugh cannot be relied upon to track runners, while Ryan Fraser also does his best work going forward. One felt sorry for Harry Arter, who is normally a box-to-box midfielder, but was forced to do so much defensive work due to gaps in areas that should not have been his responsibility.

Should Pugh and Charlie Daniels remain as Bournemouth’s left-sided combo on Saturday, Agnew might be tempted to start Adama Traore. The winger’s decision making and end product can be questioned but he is more likely than Stuani to exploit gaps down the right flank.

Boro need more pace in the final third to have a chance of staying up, while Bournemouth must re-organize to be sure of doing so themselves.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 1-1

The Football Lab sends its condolences to the friends and family of former Middlesbrough player Ugo Ehiogu, who sadly died this week.