Preview: Manchester City v Middlesbrough

Klopp ‘couldn’t care less’ about title talk as he prepares for the FA Cup

Middlesbrough can expect one of the sternest tests of their campaign when they take on a rejuvenated Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Premier League
5 November 2016
Matchday 11
Kick-off: 23:00 HKT
Venue: Etihad Stadium

Referee: Kevin Friend
Assistants: R West, A Holmes
Fourth official: M Jones

Head-to-head summary:

Manchester City 102 42 20 40
Middlesbrough 102 40 20 42

Previous encounter:

Manchester City 0-2 Middlesbrough (FA Cup)
Middlesbrough goalscorers: P. Bamford (53′), Kike (90′)

Players to watch:

It’s fair to say that striker Sergio Aguero has not made the start to the season he would have liked – the Argentina international recently ended a six-match goal drought in all competitions.

However, after netting an impressive first-half brace against West Brom last weekend and bagging an assist in City’s 3-1 triumph over Barcelona in the Champions League in midweek, it would be reasonable to expect the diminutive frontman to add to his tally this weekend. When he’s fit and firing on all cylinders, Aguero is undeniably one of the top marksmen in Europe.

Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, meanwhile, is enjoying a rich vein of form, having scored four goals in his last two appearances. The Germany international has taken a while to hit his straps, but appears to be recapturing the kind of form that saw him become a key player at Borussia Dortmund.

For Middlesbrough, goalkeeper Victor Valdes is the man to watch. The former Barcelona player has kept back-to-back clean sheets, and will no doubt be keen to impress against his former boss.

Team form and manager quotes:

Despite a worrying blip in form in October, the Citizens remain at the top of the Premier League standings, level on points with fellow pacesetters Arsenal and Liverpool.

And, after recording convincing wins over West Brom and Barcelona in their last two fixtures, City will be determined to continue their recent upturn in form.

What adds an extra layer of intrigue to this encounter is that Guardiola and opposite number Aitor Karanka will square off for the first time since lining up in the opposite dugout during their time in Spain.

Karanka was assistant to Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, while Guardiola was at the helm of Barca.

“When we were football players he played against us and after he was assistant coach at Real Madrid, and that’s all,” Guardiola told reporters.

“We don’t meet or chat too much. I respect a lot what he has done here in England with Middlesbrough because I know how difficult it must be to go from the Championship to the Premier League.

“He has done really well.”

Middlesbrough, meanwhile, will be in good spirits after collecting four points from their last two fixtures, including an impressive goalless draw with Arsenal at the Emirates.

And Karanka had words of praise for Guardiola, telling reporters: “I said that with Pep here the league was going to improve, and he’s showing how good he is.

“Now we have to play against them but we must focus on ourselves. We played well against Arsenal but now we have to go to the Etihad expecting a tough game as Man City are an amazing team.”

Team news:

Manchester City have just one fresh injury concern, with midfielder Fernandinho rated doubtful after sustaining a knock against Barcelona.

However, key duo Kevin De Bruyne and Vincent Kompany are pushing for recalls after starting on the substitutes bench against West Brom last weekend.

For Boro, Gaston Ramirez misses out with a one-match ban after collecting his fifth yellow card of the campaign against Bournemouth.

Cristhian Stuani and Marten de Roon are available for selection after recovering from respective injury problems, while Daniel Ayala (ankle) faces a late fitness test.