WILL DYER (@w2Dyer) returns to the Premier League action after a week off. Here he gives us the lowdown on the relegation battle between Swansea and Middlesbrough on Sunday afteroon.
Swansea City v Middlesbrough | Sunday 13:30 | Sky Sports 1
Middlesbrough haven’t won in their last 11 Premier League games since beating this weekend’s opponents, Swansea, 3-0 at the Riverside in December. That recent form saw Aitor Karanka shown the door.
In those 11 games, Boro scored a paltry four goals. That’s been their problem all season, they have the best defensive record outside the top seven by a full five goals but have only scored a miserable 20 goals and, if anything, the problem seems to be getting worse.
As for the Swans, a lot has changed in South Wales in the same period, Paul Clement has replaced Bob Bradley and they have won their last three home games and won away at Anfield and Selhurst Park. These are two teams trending in different directions.
Boro’s caretaker manager Steve Agnew is the odds-on favourite to get the job full-time. He’ll be targeting a win; anything else would compound their relegation fears further with just nine games left to avoid the drop.
Defensively they will be prepared for this fixture with Daniel Ayala back in the fold. The headache for Agnew is what to do up front. Alvaro Negredo scored twice in the reverse fixture but usually hasn’t performed in a 4-4-2 formation.
Against Manchester United, Boro played pretty well in the deployed 4-3-3. The hosts had 64% possession and the combination of Stewart Downing and Gaston Ramirez caused the Red Devils plenty of problems.
As for Swansea, midweek has seen discussions over Gylfi Sigurdsson’s future being elsewhere and the points target that Clement has in mind. The former Real Madrid assistant manager has set his eyes on 42 points, which means 15 from the next nine games. A win in this fixture is a must after defeats to bottom half rivals Hull City and Bournemouth in the last two game-weeks.
Against the Cherries, Swansea were dire. The first half saw them pass the ball about well for a short spell but after that they lacked any kind of shape or desire. There were absentees which could have contributed to that, requiring Leroy Fer to play at right back and Jordan Ayew and Sigurdsson on the wings.
Kyle Naughton and Martin Olsson will return to action this time, which should help. The Swans rely on naturally gifted wingers with target man Fernando Llorente in the box. Whilst Sigurdsson needs the ball in the middle to affect the game as well as we know he can.
Looking at the under/over goals in this game is a nightmare. The Liberty Stadium has seen more than any other ground thisseason; 51 in just 14 games, 3.64 goals per game but Boro’s away games average just 1.71, by far the lowest in the division.
I get the feeling that Llorente could be stifled by Middlesbrough’s solid and rangy defenders and the impressive Victor Valdes but the bet for me still has to pro-Swansea. 19/20 about a home win doesn’t get the pulse racing so instead I’ll opt for Sigurdsson to score anytime at 9/4 with PaddyPower.
The ‘Ice Man’ has eight goals and 11 assists this season, he’s key to their survival and I can see him taking a few pop shots from the edge of the area with Boro’s defensive style and he’s fairly good from distant as we know.
Swansea City v Middlesbrough – Gylfi Sigurdsson to score anytime (9/4 PaddyPower)