Middlesbrough will travel to Blackburn Rovers on Sunday facing something of a centre-back crisis, but Tony Pulis should solve it in unlikely fashion by playing new boy John Obi Mikel at the heart of his defence.
Well, just a few weeks ago the Teesside outfit had a plethora of centre-back options with the likes of Daniel Ayala, Aden Flint, Dael Fry and Danny Batth.
However, having seen the latter’s loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers ended early so he could join Stoke City on a permanent deal, before seeing Ayala red-carded and Flint go off injured in the 1-0 defeat against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Wednesday night, they are down to the bare bones.
Pulis favoured a back five including two wing-backs for the clash against the Blades, but he may be forced to completely change his thinking at Ewood Park given the Spaniard’s suspension, and the hamstring issue that he says will keep the former Bristol City man out for “three to four weeks”.
It is a crucial clash for Boro considering they are only in the play-offs on goal difference following their latest reverse, and the experienced Welshman will want to take at least a point in Lancashire.
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While the likes of Ryan Shotton and George Friend could step into a centre-back role if required, the 61-year-old should instead leave them where they are and bring Obi Mikel into the backline to partner Dael Fry in a four-man defence.
The Nigeria international has been known as a defensive midfielder throughout his career but he has appeared at centre-back on occasions, and he has all of the traits to do a good job there as well.
Considering the number of central midfield options Pulis has available to him he wouldn’t miss the experienced 31-year-old there, and as a result it is a bit of a no-brainer decision.