How could Middlesbrough line-up against Stoke City?
SWANSEA, WALES - OCTOBER 27: Cardiff manager Neil Warnock watches the game from the touch line during the Sky Bet Championship match between Swansea City and Cardiff City at the Liberty Stadium on October 27, 2019 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

With their Championship status hanging in the balance and time dissolving into the abyss to save their season, Middlesbrough acted swiftly in their dismissal of Jonathon Woodgate by appointing Neil Warnock for their final eight matches. 

Warnock, 71, is accustomed to pressured situations such as the one Boro find themselves in, having masterminded eight promotions in a managerial career that spans a remarkable 40 years. 

The Yorkshireman, whose inability to make friends and influence people is particularly palpable, should not, however, detract from the significant accomplishments reaped during his managerial career. Warnock's footballing approach matches his rigorous character; hard to stifle, hard to oppose and certainly hard to defeat. 

His teams are very rarely easy on the eye, the football is direct and he maximises every inch of talent at his disposal. Warnock's unfazed character and faith in a directly driven ethos is one that has been lost in the trenches of the modern game, with the veteran boss often finding the Premier League a tough proposition. 

Much like Dwight Gayle, Alex Pritchard and Lewis Grabban, Warnock is efficient and effective at this level but perhaps not good enough to stake a claim for the top rung of the ladder. 

His preferred interest in jobs isn't too dissimilar to the proposition he finds in the North East, an exercise in recycling struggling talents, digging a team out of the trenches and helping them to achieve their potential. 

Warnock relishes the challenge of resurrecting an ex-Premier League team, he did just that with Cardiff City when he took the reigns in 2016. The Welsh club was fighting against relegation before Warnock turned their fortunes around, with Boro posing a similar opposition to his embellished CV.  

The difference on this occasion, however, is the budget at his disposal. Much like at Cardiff and throughout his managerial career, Warnock has been accustomed to working on a relative shoestring budget, building a unit that is much more than the sum of its parts. While he has found success with this method, Boro chairman Steve Gibson could provide him with the extra financial muscle to flex, should he retain the Teessiders league status. 

The appointment of Neil Warnock is a bold strategy, but one that could prove to be the ace in the pack in their quest for survival. Boro have acted in response to their faltering league position, while other clubs - namely Hull City - haven't. 

Criticism was directed from various angles towards the departed Woodgate, and he came under scrutiny for leaving out key personnel in their 3-0 defeat to Swansea City, with Britt Assombalonga, Patrick Roberts and Ashley Fletcher having to settle for a place on the bench. 

While those mentioned were devoid of their place in the XI, it is expected that Warnock will draft those names back into the fray ahead of a crucial relegation six-pointer.

Predicted line-up

 

The 71-year-old favours the 4-2-3-1 formation, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him use that system at Middlesbrough.

Woodgate favoured a flat midfield (4-3-3) and this reaped a lack of creativity, with Boro possessing a low average on chances created. And while this stat may not alter under Warnock, the use of a number 10 can spearhead attacks, create from deep and poach goals inside the box. 

Taking this into consideration, we look at how Middlesbrough could line-up in Warnock's first game in charge against Stoke City.

GK: Dejan Stojanovic

Perhaps Dejan Stojanovic would have been dropped had Woodgate still been in charge, however, the key to defensive stability is persisting with a familiar backline. For this reason, Stojanovic is likely to get the nod over young goalkeeper Aynsley Pears

RB: Jonny Howson

CB: Ryan Shotton

CB: Dael Fry

LB: George Friend

Despite struggling in recent times, this backline could flourish under a more defensive-minded coach. Warnock has inherited a defence that can be likened to the one he ameliorated in his tenure at Cardiff, with George Friend, Ryan Shotton and Jonny Howson boasting an abundance of Championship experience. Warnock is versed in being hard to beat, while his man-motivation and ability to foster team spirit could be the missing pieces to their defensive concerns.

 CM: Adam Clayton

CM: Lewis Wing

RW: Patrick Roberts

CAM: Paddy McNair

LW: Ashley Fletcher

The last time Warnock was the catalyst to Cardiff’s promotion, no other team had played fewer passes in the opposition’s half, attempted fewer passes overall or completed fewer passes, so it isn't expected that his midfield will have a lot of the ball.

However, they will possess a directness in their play, protect their defence well and play on the counter-attack. Fortunately for Warnock, the position with the most quality is out wide, with Ashley Fletcher and Patrick Roberts offering an out ball, relieving defensive pressure through their pace and ability to beat a man. 

ST: Britt Assombalonga

Warnock's greatest challenge, aside from avoiding the drop, could be getting the best out of Assombalonga. The 27-year-old forward has lost his way in recent times and fell out of favour under Woodgate towards the end of his reign. Assombalonga was once one of the meanest poachers in the Championship and has shown glimpses during this campaign, however, it's Warnock's task to bring him back to his best. He transformed the fortunes of Junior Hoilett, Neil Etheridge and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, perhaps he could do a similar job for Boro's goal-shy striker. 

Whether Warnock chooses to use this formation remains to be seen, with the 4-4-2 something he has available to him in his repertoire and while there are question marks over his chosen formation, there certainly isn't any over his managerial know-how.

Who would write Warnock off? He's the man who relishes the heat of battle, as he takes Boro to war in surely his last managerial role. 

In a period where sides have lost, it seems Boro have won, taking a huge stride to survival with their appointment of the veteran boss. 

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