Middlesbrough 0-0 Leicester: Five Talking Points

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Middlesbrough 0-0 Leicester – skysports.com

Here are The Football Lab’s Five Talking Points from Middlesbrough’s 0-0 draw with Leicester.

Traore and Friend impress

Adama Traore caused a lot of problems for Christian Fuchs. The right winger’s raw pace was complimented by the intelligent movement of Antonio Barragan, who went off with a hamstring injury after half an hour. Fabio assumed Barragan’s berth at right-back with substitute George Friend filling the left-back slot and the latter would see a lot of the ball in the second half. The former Exeter man was responsible for providing width after the break and with Gaston Ramirez often cutting inside, he was positioned effectively as a winger. Friend put in plenty of crosses and also cut inside Danny Simpson for a shot that went just wide midway through the half.

Middlesbrough used the right flank well in the first half and the left well in the second. Play could have been switched quicker on occasion, but the work of their wide men did not merit a goalless performance.

Negredo’s lack of bravery

The fact Boro’s numerous crosses proved fruitless can be blamed largely at the lack of bravery shown by Alvaro Negredo. When a ball comes into the box, the best lone strikers bust a gut to win the ball ahead of opposing defenders, then it is down to on-running midfielders to latch onto the rebounds. Instead, Negredo’s natural instinct was to peel off into less congested areas, almost as if he were afraid to duel with Leicester’s centre-backs. On most occasions, his opponents won the ball and Boro’s moment would pass. Negredo’s unwillingness to compete in the air suggests the arrival of target man Rudy Gestede could solve one or two problems.

Huth and Morgan stood strong

While criticisms of Negredo’s laziness remain valid, it is also possible that he did not feel he could win balls in the air against Robert Huth and Wes Morgan. The latter misplaced a headed clearance that fell to Ramirez in the box late on, but otherwise the duo were back to their imperious best. Powerful, competent in the air and capable of dominating their centre-forward. The fact Middlesbrough had only one shot on target despite applying so much pressure speaks volumes for the job they did. This Leicester team looked miles off the one that won the title last season – only Huth and Morgan didn’t.

Leicester lacked aggression

The players defending their centre-backs did not show their combative side. Simpson let Friend waltz passed him on one or two occasions while Fuchs looked off the pace. Andy King appeared frail but Daniel Amartey and Nampalys Mendy are physical players and should have exerted their power more often in their defensive third. The fact they did not is one of the reasons their opponents got into numerous good positions during the match.

Leicester must counter better

That criticism is a strange one to have to make, given that Leicester’s capacity for an effective breakaway was key to their title-winning success. In the first half however, they could not create chances due to a lack of pace in their personnel. Shinji Okazaki and Leandro Ulloa have never had much speed while Riyad Mahrez did not stretch for loose balls as one might have expected. In the second half, Claudio Ranieri introduced players who on paper would add the pace to threaten on the counter, namely Demarai Gray and Ahmed Musa. However, those wide men were perhaps too honest and stayed back, even when Leicester had the ball, meaning that the team did not have any outlets. The other issue was poor passing from the Foxes’ midfielders, some of whom were guilty of either shifting the ball sideways, backwards or hoofing it clear, making it difficult to construct attacks.

Boro need a left winger

This game provided proof that Middlesbrough cannot always rely on Gaston Ramirez for creativity. He kept drifting into central areas, even though the team already had three midfielders bossing the middle of the pitch and their opponents were defending narrowly and deep. The space was out wide, yet Ramirez is not the type to burst to the byline so in January, the recruitment team needs to sign a left-footed winger. That would enable Aitor Karanka, in these types of games, to sacrifice a midfielder – perhaps Marten De Roon, who appeared more intelligent out of possession than it in, or slow ball-mover Adam Clayton – and move Ramirez inside whilst retaining width on both flanks.

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