Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Nsue, Ayala, Amorebieta, Friend, Clayton, Adomah, Forshaw, Downing, Stuani, Nugent
Everton: Robles, Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori, Galloway, Cleverly, Gibson, Deulofeu, Barkley, Naismith, Lukaku
Second in the Championship. 6 wins out of 7 in the League with the only defeat in that coming against promotion rivals Hull City. Middlesbrough and Aitor Karanka seem to have built upon the foundations laid down by the Spaniard in his maiden full campaign. Middlesbrough have been on an upward curve under Karanka with season finishes of 12th and 4th (losing in the play offs to Norwich), Middlesbrough look ready for the Premier League big time once more. With the seeming dearth of Premier League talent in the North-East, this could be Middlesbrough’s time to shine and to come out of the shadows from their closest of rivals.
Karanka has a fully fit squad going into this game after seeing Stuani return to full training this week and his currently the clubs top scorer in all competitions (7 goals so far). However it was Middlesbrough’s ambition in the summer with the signings of Stewart Downing and David Nugent that really underline the talent at Karanka’s disposal. Both players had some of their best Premier League spells at West Ham and Leicester City respectively last season and with Aitor Karanka saying today that Middlesbrough fans can ‘dream’ of their first Cup semi-final since 2006 (http://po.st/mxYGxZ), it is hard to imagine that the Riverside faithful won’t be looking forward to this game.
For Everton and after the manner in which they drew with Bournemouth at the weekend, this game could potentially have a lot to say about where this Everton is at mentally going into a hard game against Alan ‘Pard-iloa’ Pardew’s Crystal Palace this weekend (a friend used that nickname over the weekend and I can’t help but find it brilliant). No win away from home in any competition since their defeat of West Brom at the end of September, a win could be an invaluable boost in confidence as we hard into December.
With late fitness tests for both James McCarthy and Gareth Barry, and Martinez already confirming Robles will take up his place between the sticks, changes seem to be afoot for Everton who at times have been dazzling going forward. Three players worth mentioning has to be Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu. All three players are in brilliant form at the moment but how Deulofeu has settled in, in what is now his second season back at Everton must be a lovely resource for Martinez to call upon. His eye for a pass is extraordinary and his ability to judge the weight of a ball is up there with the very best. This undoubted talent on the ball has sparked the goal-scoring fires in the young Belgian. Lukaku, 22 years old, is now the fifth Premier League striker to score 50 Premier League goals before the age of 23. When you make a note that most of these goals have come for either West Brom or Everton and not the likes of a United or an Arsenal, this is a striker who is has talented as he is a handful. For whoever starts at centre back for Boro this evening, it will be a valuable lesson in what the Premier League has to offer potentially next season.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 2-2 Everton (Middlesbrough after Extra Time or Penalties)