The last time we took on Middlesbrough at the stadium of light our attacking options were as follows: Kenwyne Jones, Michael Chopra, Daryl Murphy, Rade Prica, Carlos Edwards, Kieran Richardson and Andy Reid. Not to knock those players (well, maybe some of them) but it’s clear to see that we have far more attractive choices in those areas now, compared to April 2008. That’s to be expected of course, as the club should be progressing and growing stronger, but after some stagnation it’s pleasing to be able to have a debate on who the starting forwards should be this Sunday.
If you’ve listened to this weeks podcast (if not, why?) you’ll have heard the lads offering their own opinions on who should come in and who should be left out. It’ll probably be discussed just as heavily over pre match pints on Sunday and you can make a compelling case for a lot of the lads. Jermain Defoe will retain his spot up front but who should be starting in the attacking midfield roles and providing Defoe’s main source of service?
The obvious player who most fans will want to see starting the game will be Adnan Januzaj and it’s not without good reason. Against Manchester City, the Manchester United loanee provided more creativity in 5 minutes, than Duncan Watmore did in an hour and more than Fabio Borini did in the whole game. A week of full training with the squad will certainly have benefitted Januzaj and, with a point to prove, he’ll be desperate to terrorise a much more vulnerable defence than the one he faced last week. I’d have the Nandos loving winger start ahead of Watmore, using the roadrunner off the bench if required.
Lynden Gooch starting and Wahbi Khazri only making the bench was the biggest surprise on the teamsheet last week. It was Gooch’s Premier League debut but the academy product looked totally at ease with the occasion. It wasn’t a world class performance from Gooch but looking so comfortable against a team with the quality Man City possess was brilliant to see. Would it be right to start him in a game where he’ll have much more of the ball and be expected to make a lot more happen though? I’m not so sure. For that reason, and because of the danger he brings from set pieces, I’d bring Khazri in for the rookie. It’s harsh but Gooch’s chance will come again as he now looks to be very much a part of David Moyes plans.
So that leaves Fabio Borini in the starting line up, if I was to have my way. I was frustrated by him on Saturday as he was a tad slow in possession, not making enough use of the few occasions he had the ball in the opposition half. This Sunday though, these are the type of games Borini puts in big displays for us. He won’t be scared of the battle, he won’t shun doing his defensive work and he loves getting important goals for us (he doesn’t do badly against local rivals either!). Add to that how sharp he’s looked in pre season, he’d be the one of the three that started last week, that I would keep in for the Boro game.
Whoever David Moyes chooses I’ll have faith in though. We raised eyebrows last week but we were a Paddy McNair nose away from getting a fantastic point. The Middlesbrough defence will have a tough afternoon with whichever combination he goes with as we have some very promising attackers at present. If we can beat Middlesbrough with Michael Chopra & Carlos Edwards, we can beat them with Adnan Januzaj & Wahbi Khazri.