AUTHOR: James Dowen

STAR PREVIEW Fri: Manchester United v Middlesbrough

The Premier League’s clubs have enjoyed a short winter break, but there’s little chance of a soft return to action for Manchester United, who can expect a stiff resistance from Middlesbrough in their FA Cup fourth round tie tonight.

Progression is vital for Ralf Ragnick’s men, given that this is their best chance of a trophy bar far with a top four spot being the limit of their Premier League ambitions whilst they are 20/1 for Champions League glory.

With that in mind, a home tie against non Premier League opposition would be ideal on paper, but Middlesbrough will arrive with confidence after undergoing a transformation since Chris Wilder’s arrival. The former Sheffield United manager has taken them from 14th to seventh in the Championship table after winning 23 points from 11 matches.

Boro have won seven of their last nine matches and their only defeat during that period came against a Blackburn side that’s currently in second place (when they won the expected goals count 1.24 – 0.94), whilst their decent performance against Middlesbrough and Bournemouth should give some hope for a decent showing against the hosts.

However, for all that the near future looks bright at Middlesbrough, United did head into the winter break on a positive note with back-to-back wins against Brentford and West Ham in the Premier League giving Ralf Ragnick successive wins for the first time since he took over.

They needed a last-minute goal to get the better of West Ham but did win the shot count 18-6 and it’s possible that they’ll improve for having more time with Ralf Ragnick going forwards.

Manchester United v Middlesbrough
FA Cup Fourth Round
20:00 ITV 1 HD / ITV Hub

(Maximum 10 matches)
MAR 2017 PREMIER LEAGUE Middlesbrough 1-3 Manchester United
DEC 2016 PREMIER LEAGUE Manchester United 2-1 Middlesbrough
OCT 2015 CAPITAL ONE CUP Manchester United 0-0 Middlesbrough
MAY 2009 PREMIER LEAGUE Middlesbrough 0-2 Manchester United
DEC 2008 PREMIER LEAGUE Manchester United 1-0 Middlesbrough
SEP 2008 CARLING CUP Manchester United 3-1 Middlesbrough
APR 2008 PREMIER LEAGUE Middlesbrough 2-2 Manchester United
OCT 2007 PREMIER LEAGUE Manchester United 4-1 Middlesbrough

We should also see a strong side out too, with possible starts for Marcus Rashford,and Jadon Sancho either side of Cristiano Ronaldo whilst it looks likely that we could see Bruno Fernandes in the middle of the park as well.

We can expect a strong side from Middlesbrough too – on-loan Arsenal striker Folarin Balogun is expected to make his first start for the club and he could form an attacking duo with Andraz Sporar who has bagged four goals in his last six appearances – but eventually United ought to be too strong.

Both sides have defened reasonably well recently under their relatively new management, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this game took some time to open up. The 16/5 on United winning after a half time draw makes the most appeal.

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