Manchester United travel to the Riverside Stadium to battle a manager-less Middlesbrough, with a chance to move to 5th on the Premier League table.

Manchester United are in a tricky position. They have played less games compared to others, owing to their obligations on other fronts, with the Red Devils competing on four fronts coming into February. But, still they have a chance to move up to fifth on the table, with a win against Middlesbrough.

Boro are in a very precarious position. Aitor Karanka left the managerial post at the Riverside by mutual consent amid speculation of a players’ revolt and this could spark a new life into the squad on Sunday. However, the contrary is very much possible as well, with the relegation candidates succumbing to a heavy defeat to the Red Devils.

We at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at the fixture.

Team News & Tactics

Middlesbrough FC

As if the unavailability of key players was not enough, Middlesbrough will not have Aitor Karanka in the dugout come Sunday, with the manager parting ways with the club, by mutual consent. Along with Karanka, the absentees include Daniel Ayala, Calum Chambers, Bernardo and George Friend in the defence.

The fitness woes at the back could see young Dael Fry promoted to the starting lineup to partner captain Ben Gibson at the heart of the defence. Stewart Downing became an outcast under Karanka this season and perhaps his exit could propel the English veteran back to the starting eleven.

The likes of Victor Valdes and Fabio are set to go up against their former club while Adama Traore is widely expected to carry the danger, as was the case when the two teams met last time in the current campaign.

Probable Lineup ( 4-4-1-1 ): Valdes; Barragan, Fry, Gibson, Fabio; Traore, Roon, Clayton, Downing; Ramirez; Negredo

Manchester United FC

Manchester United are already without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is serving his 3-game suspension. But Mourinho could field an eleven without Paul Pogba and Zlatan, with the Frenchman coming off with an injury scare during the midweek Europa League encounter.

Along with Zlatan, Ander Herrera is also serving his suspension, as a result of the early shower he received against Chelsea in the FA Cup. Wayne Rooney is still a doubt for the fixture while Marcos Rojo appeared to be cramping up in the midweek clash and his fitness is likely to be evaluated before the game.

Marcus Rashford is all but guaranteed to start upfront for United while Anthony Martial, who did not feature in the midweek, is likely to be in the starting eleven. Michael Carrick could be set to be partnered by Marouane Fellaini, who was amazing in the midweek clash.

Elsewhere, David De Gea is set to return in goal for United while the attacking duo of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata are likely to be retained in the starting eleven by Mourinho.

Probable Lineup ( 4-2-3-1 ): De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Bailly, Darmian; Carrick, Fellaini; Mata, Mkhitaryan, Martial; Rashford

Betting Odds

Favourable Bets:

1. Manchester United to win @ 1.70

2. Marcus Rashford to score anytime @ 2.60

Underdog Bets:

1. Manchester United Asian Handicap – 2.0 @ 5.250

2. Juan Mata to score anytime @ 3.40

Key Stats

1. 18 – Manchester United could extend their current unbeaten run, their longest in the Premier League, to 18 games with a positive result against Middlesbrough.

2. 19 – Middlesbrough are the most miser team in front of goal by a distance with 19 goals scored in the Premier League so far this campaign, 7 fewer than second lowest Hull City.

3. 10 – Middlesbrough are winless in their last 10 Premier League fixtures.

4. Goal drought – Boro have not scored a single goal in their last four league games.

5. 1000 – Middlesbrough’s next defeat will be their 1000th defeat in the Premier League and Boro would be the 14th team to achieve the unsavoury milestone.

Player to Watch

Marouane Fellaini

Despite the array of stars likely to take the field in the Manchester United jersey on Sunday, it is the Belgian who is our Player to keep an eye on. Fellaini did remarkably well against FC Rostov and it would be interesting to see if he carries on from there.

An ardent follower of Mourinho's methods, Fellaini is slowly regaining his place in the hearts of United fans. (Picture Courtesy - AFP/Getty Images)

An ardent follower of Mourinho’s methods, Fellaini is slowly regaining his place in the hearts of United fans. (Picture Courtesy – AFP/Getty Images)

The towering nature of the player will also help United’s cause in attacking set-pieces and Fellaini could be set to play an integral role in Sunday’s victory, if United do end up winning the game.


Middlesbrough FC 0 – 4 Manchester United FC

We at The Hard Tackle are speculating that Manchester United will finally take this opportunity to climb up the table with both hands, and perhaps more than two goals. Marcus Rashford can really make a plea to be the face of United’s attack for next season, with impressive performances in the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Middlesbrough have somewhat had problems defending set-pieces, which is where the likes of Marouane Fellaini and Phil Jones could come in handy.

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