Talking Tactics | Middlesbrough v Swansea City
Swansea City make the trip to Middlesbrough this weekend as they seek to get back to winning ways. Ahead of this one, WhoScored.com preview the encounter at the Riverside, take a look at what to expect from Boro, the key battle and a key stat.
What to expect from Middlesbrough
"Middlesbrough have had a slow start, but they’re in a false position," Swansea boss Russell Martin said in his pre-match press conference on Thursday. Boro head into Saturday's welcome of the Swans second from bottom having picked up just three points from their opening five matches.
They're one of two teams yet to pick up a victory. The other, Coventry, have only played two league games this season. Going forward, Boro have been effective, they have netted seven times in five matches with that the fifth-best return in the Championship as Chuba Akpom makes up for lost time as their leading scorer.
Akpom spent last season on loan at Greek side PAOK, but has returned to the Riverside and made an immediate impact, scoring twice already this season, both of which came in a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United.
Like a number of Championship sides, Boro also use a three-man backline, with head coach Chris Wilder favouring a system that uses two strikers. In this instance, he has three main options to use in Akpom, Marcus Forss and Duncan Watmore, while Matthew Hoppe and new signing Rodrigo Muniz are also available to Wilder.
Their best route to goal, unsurprisingly, is by going down the flanks to use the wing-backs and stretch opponents. Isaiah Jones has started the campaign strongly having earned a WhoScored.com rating of 7.03 this season; only Darragh Lenihan (7.14) has returned better of all Boro players.
Jones has had a direct hand in three of their seven goals, scoring once, and he routinely showcases a statistically calculated WhoScored.com strength of 'dribbling' as he ranks 12th for dribbles per game (1.6) in England's second tier this term.
Jones has a decent end product to his game, too, when he does break forward, averaging one key pass per game, that ranking fourth of all Boro players. It's a metric topped by left wing-back Ryan Giles (2.8), with the 22-year-old perhaps not as direct as Jones, but a handy attacking outlet for Wilder's side capable of delivering with real quality.
With these two working in tandem, it's no wonder that Boro are among the highest scorers in the division, so keeping Jones and Giles at bay will be key at the Riverside. Rather, the reason Boro are so close to the foot of the table is because they have struggled to keep opponents out, shipping nine times in the Championship this season, more than any other team.
Looking to capitalise on Boro's defensive record for the visitors will be young striker Michael Obafemi. The Swans may have only scored four times this season, but Obafemi has been directly involved in two of those; netting in the 2-2 draw with Millwall and providing the assist for Olivier Ntcham's late winner at Blackpool.
What's more, Obafemi netted Swansea's equaliser when these two met at the Swansea.com Stadium back in April, so he has previous against Boro.
The hosts will be looking to Lenihan to help keep Obafemi in check. The summer arrival, as previously mentioned, is Boro's best-rated player in the Championship this season, and he will be keen to help Wilder's side as they seek to earn their first win of 2022-23 and his first since joining.
Boro may have the worst defensive records in the Championship this season, but there has been a hint of misfortune about that return.
Wilder's side are conceding the fourth-fewest shots per game (8.6) in England's second tier, so if they can start to turn those figures into clean sheets they should quickly shoot up the table. Swansea, though, will be looking to make every opportunity count.