Middlesbrough must look to play with positivity and verve to build on last weekend's hard-working performance that won them a valuable point in a 0-0 draw at Arsenal.
Winger Adama Traore was one of the standout men from last weekend, clocking up pacey runs at almost 35km/h. Fans had seen glimpses of the former Barcelona man's speedy skills when he livened up the 2-1 defeat to Tottenham earlier in the season. Ever since, boss Aitor Karanka has been called upon to give Traore a place in his starting line-up to see what the Spaniard can do from the off - and the fans' wishes were granted last weekend against Arsenal.
Boro found plenty of momentum in their attacking moves thanks to Traore and it will now be a very tough call for Karanka to leave him out against Bournemouth on Saturday. The boss may also choose to bring back in Stewart Downing, who started on the bench in the last game, as his composure and knowledge may be needed against a canny Bournemouth side who will press hard away from home.
The manager has a relatively healthy squad to choose from, particularly in midfield where he can pick and choose who makes up his power five. It feels like Karanka has not yet settled on his best midfield selection, with Marten de Roon proving to be an impressive addition to the centre and vying for his place with last season's success stories Adam Clayton and Adam Forshaw. Picking two from these three is certainly easier than the quandary surrounding Boro's attacking options in the middle of the park -- none of whom have really fulfilled their potential or made their mark on the campaign thus far.
Cristhian Stuani had a blinding half an hour during Boro's only win to date, scoring two first half goals in the 2-1 win at Sunderland, but has struggled to set the world alight since. Gaston Ramirez looks a lethargic shadow of the man who propelled Boro back into promotion contention at the end of last season -- seemingly struggling again with the shift in quality of the Premier League and looking more reminiscent of the player who disappointed when at Southampton. And one of Karanka's summer "hotshot" signings, Viktor Fischer, has been forgettable and drifted in and out of the side.
While it is great to have a level of flexibility and choice, the midfield does not yet feel like a stable and balanced proposition, as the manager struggles to lockdown his optimum five. Giving a defined set of players a run in the team may help to provide a sense of cohesion and a long-term strategy, in particular to bolster the side's weakest attribute -- attacking.
Without this, the goals are still not forthcoming. Boro have hit the back of the net seven times so far this season -- only once more than bottom club Sunderland -- and, although they looked threatening at Arsenal, that killer edge in front of goal is still missing. Alvaro Negredo continues to cut a frustrated figure on his own up front, suffering from limited supply and poor end product. Jordan Rhodes, a key part of the Teessiders' promotion push and an expensive purchase back in the January transfer window, was a surprise omission from the 18 last weekend. It remains a huge frustration for fans that Rhodes has not really been given a chance to bed into the team and help try to reverse their attacking fortunes.
While Boro fundamentally look to build from the back and hunker down for clean sheets, they cannot plan to defend their way to Premier League survival. Karanka's side must quickly learn to craft the perfect counter attack -- getting forward with plenty of urgency and finding that injection of pace, whether it comes from Traore or elsewhere. Once again, the Teessiders will not push the boat out in pursuit of racking up goals against Bournemouth, but will look to relocate that sweet spot of defensive surety and a measured attack that was so successful last weekend at the Emirates.