Middlesbrough play host to fellow Championship promotion contenders Leeds United at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday, and Tony Pulis must be ready to take advantage after Whites boss Marcelo Bielsa said he could be without three key players on Teesside, as per the Yorkshire Evening Post.
Well, Bielsa confirmed in his pre-match press conference that there are doubts over the fitness of Mateusz Klich, Adam Forshaw and Pablo Hernandez through injury at the weekend, and it gives the Boro boss a big opportunity to exploit their opponents.
The trio are all capable of playing through the middle in Leeds’ preferred 4-1-4-1 system, and without those players they will surely be weaker than usual through the middle of the park.
Pulis has largely favoured either a 5-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 system so far this season, and he appears unlikely to repeat deploying a 3-5-2 formation he used during the week, given they were beaten 2-0 by Newport County in their fourth-round FA Cup replay.
Assuming Leeds are going to be less effective from an attacking point of view in central areas – which should certainly be the case if they are without Forshaw, Klich and Hernandez – then Boro need to take advantage through the middle.
Pulis has often decided to play with four central-midfield players even when using a 5-4-1 system, but he has now been given the perfect opportunity to be slightly more adventurous to get his side a vital three points against a Whites side that look to be lagging a little.
Going with a 4-2-3-1 gives him the defensive balance he wants and needs but also gives him a player in behind the striker who can really hurt Bielsa’s men, and now he must decide who the best individual for the job is – Lewis Wing must surely be in with a shout.
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