Middlesbrough and Swansea may serve up surprise thriller
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Middlesbrough have conceded fewer goals in the Premier League than Liverpool and Arsenal this season but Boro’s miserable attacking efforts mean they are long odds-on to be relegated.
The fixture at rejuvenated Swansea is followed by a trip to fellow strugglers Hull on Wednesday and a home game against Burnley on Saturday.
That run will go a long way towards determining which division Boro will be playing in next season and caretaker boss Steve Agnew has been talking up his side’s attacking options.
That may come as a surprise to those fans who sat through the grim final days of Aitor Karanka’s reign – an Alvaro Negredo penalty was Middlesbrough’s only goal in their last five league games under the dour Spaniard.
Agnew’s first match in charge ended in a 3-1 home defeat to Manchester United. The Boro goal came from sub Rudy Gestede, introduced to give Negredo some much-needed support up front, and the strugglers, desperate for points, will surely play with more freedom at the Liberty Stadium.
Swansea surged up the table under Paul Clement but Hull’s resurgence means the Welsh club still have work to do to confirm their top-flight status.
While Negredo has cut an isolated figure at Middlesbrough, his fellow Spanish target man Fernando Llorente has enjoyed far better service at Swansea, scoring 11 goals in 22 starts in the Premier League.
Gylfi Sigurdsson is having another terrific campaign and Swansea have won their last three home matches, beating Burnley, Leicester and Southampton.
Something has to give when the Swans, who have the worst defensive record in the top flight, host a Boro side who are easily the lowest scorers in the league.
Gestede’s scrappy strike against United last time out took their tally to 20 goals in 28 matches and backing both teams to score in Boro games this season would have been an expensive system.
However, the visitors’ desperate need for a win, along with Agnew’s more positive tactics and Swansea’s defensive deficiencies – they lost 3-0 in December’s reverse fixture – suggest the bet could pay off at the Liberty.
Boro’s interim manager has been keeping his cards close to his chest, hinting that he may resist the clamour to play both big men Negredo and Gestede from the start.
Gaston Ramirez, Adama Traore, Stewart Downing and Cristhian Stuani are lively options to play off the front man and Middlesbrough could be set to feature in an uncharacteristically exciting game.
Swansea to win and both teams to score is worth considering at 7-2 with Coral and Paddy Power but given the teams’ respective positions in the table they are unlikely to go gung-ho if the scores are level late on.
Both teams to score
2pts 21-20 Betfair
Martin Olsson (ankle) and Kyle Naughton (hamstring) have recovered from their injuries.
Defender Daniel Ayala returns after a hamstring injury but George Friend (calf) and Calum Chambers (foot) are unlikely to feature. Cristhian Stuani is available after returning from international duty with Uruguay.
Swansea have kept only one clean sheet in their last 14 league matches.