Talking Tactics | Swansea City v Middlesbrough
Swansea welcome high-flying Middlesbrough to the Swansea.com Stadium today, and WhoScored.com are on hand to preview the clash. Here they take a look at what to expect from Boro, the key battle and a key stat.
What to expect from Middlesbrough
Make no mistake, today's welcome of Middlesbrough will be a tough one for Swansea. Boro are flying high in the Championship under Michael Carrick and make the trip to south Wales in the midst of a late push for automatic promotion.
Carrick's side are currently seven points off second-placed Sheffield United, and six clear of Millwall in seventh, which is a huge accomplishment in itself considering the position they were in when the 41-year-old took over.
When Carrick took charge at the Riverside, Boro found themselves down in 21st on 17 points, with a potential relegation battle on the cards. Fast forward to the present day, and only league leaders Burnley (48) have claimed more points than Middlesbrough (43) during Carrick's reign.
In that same period, Boro have scored more goals (42) than any other team and a key reason behind the upturn in fortunes came with a formation change. They previously used a three-man backline, but Carrick quickly changed to a four-man defence, notably settling on a 4-2-3-1 system.
The frontman has changed in the system, but one consistent has been Chuba Akpom's inclusion from the outset, be it leading the charge or in the role behind the striker.
With 21 goals to his name, Akpom is the Championship's top scorer this season and a WhoScored.com rating of 7.21 is understandably the best of all Boro players. Given his goal return, Akpom has rightly developed a WhoScored.com strength of 'finishing' and this matches one of Boro's best qualities, which is 'finishing scoring chances'.
Not only do Boro rank second for goals scored (61) in England's second tier, but only Burnley (14.5%) have a better conversion rate than the Teesside outfit (13.2%) this term. They don't rank highly for key passes or shots per game, but when they are presented with a chance; Boro usually take it.
Another key facet to their game is not how many goals Middlesbrough score, but the manner with which they put opponents to the sword. Boro have developed a statistically calculated WhoScored.com strength of 'counter attacks', and having scored more counter-attacking goals (7) than any other Championship side this term, it's easy to see why.
As such, supporters may see Boro sit back and soak up pressure at the Swansea.com Stadium today rather than go out all guns blazing. Swansea have the best possession average (64%) in the 2022-23 Championship campaign, so they'll seen plenty of the ball and their home side's accuracy in possession could be key.
Swansea lost 2-1 at the Riverside Stadium last year, a defeat in which Ben Cabango received his marching orders. The centre-back was dismissed late on and earned a WhoScored.com rating of just 5.32 in that loss, his second lowest in a Championship game this season.
As such, Cabango will be looking to make amends on home turf, but he is an important figure in the Swansea defence and has shown notable growth under Russell Martin.
He will find himself tasked with stopping the Championship's topscorer.
Of the 21 league goals Akpom has scored this season, eight have come in his last seven outings. That said, while Akpom is the division's leading scorer, he has still netted just six goals on his travels this season, with the 27-year-old favouring home comforts.
The Boro forward is yet to score against Swansea in three career appearances, a record the Swans will look to extend on home turf today.
Boro may be one of the most in-form teams in the division, but they don't travel to Swansea well. Indeed, the Swans are unbeaten in their last seven home meetings with Middlesbrough, winning five of those, a record that stretches back to 2009.