Football Features

Spurs vs Middlesbrough: Five things we think will happen in FA Cup third-round replay

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 13:47, 14 January 2020

Tottenham Hotspur welcome Middlesbrough for their FA Cup third-round replay on Tuesday evening.

Jose Mourinho’s men came from a goal down in the initial meeting to force a replay at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Boro were on course to cause a huge upset after Ashley Fletcher put them in front but Lucas Moura would equalise and spare the Premier League side’s blushes.

But what will happen in this rematch? We’ve put five predictions together….

1. Son will be Spurs’ creative hub

Given the evident gulf in quality, and Spurs are playing at home, it’s not outlandish to predict Mourinho’s men will dominate proceedings. It’s how they make the best of this advantage that ultimately matters.

Over the years, we’ve seen just how easily Goliath can be to smite if complacency manages to creep in. But, given who’s in charge of Spurs and the high standards he sets, chances of this are very low.

So… with the Lilywhites in full concentrated mode, how do we expect them to break down what should be a resilient Boro team (see below)?.

That’s easy, get the ball to Son Heung-min as much as possible. Given his relative freshness, having recently served a three-match suspension — and Harry Kane sidelined — we can expect the South Korean international to start from the get-go. He’s been Spurs’ most creative player in the Premier League season, providing no fewer than 25 opportunities for his teammates, and though Son could play through the middle with license to drift wide, he will always be on the lookout for a fellow man in a white shirt.

2. Boro to get stuck in

As touched upon, Boro are not going to make this game easy for Spurs, there’s simply no incentive for them to play an open and expensive game. By leaving themselves exposed, you could expect the far superior team to fill their boots. Boro’s best hope under Jonathan Woodgate is to survive 120 minutes and get to penalties.

That being said, even if they play reactively, the hosts could still run out comfortable winners. There’s also following Leeds’ recent example against Arsenal, but Marcelo Bielsa’s side are further ahead and look more Premier League-ready, to be fair.

There’s no reason for Boro to deviate away from the blueprint they executed at the Riverside Stadium on January 5. Back then they got on top of their illustrious opponents: Woodgate’s side attempted nine more tackles (35-26), 10 more blocks (21-11), made 19 more clearances (37-18) and eight more interceptions (12-4).

Naturally, they surrendered possession (29%-71%) and territory (472 touches to 843), it should not be any different in north London on Tuesday night.

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3. Troy Parrott misses out

The news of Harry Kane’s absence until April after sustaining a serious hamstring injury, during their loss at Southampton in the Premier League on New Year’s Day, hit Spurs hard.

It’s not the first time Spurs are set to miss their leading marksman for a substantial amount of time, but the length of absence is frighteningly new. As things stand, the most consecutive days Kane has missed through injury is 51 — between April and May 2019 — back then he only missed nine matches in all competitions. He’s set to eclipse that unfortunate record.

Kane’s importance, being the undisputed first name on Spurs’ team sheet, has meant understudies — Vincent Janseen and Fernando Llorente for example — have come and go, either not capable or frustrated with a lack of playing time.

Mourinho, like Mauricio Pochettino before him, seems content to use Son (or Lucas Moura) rather than a traditional ‘number nine’. This unfortunately means no place for exciting prospect Troy Parrott — whose only played five minutes under the much-travelled Portuguese coach — and we don’t see that changing this week.

4. No clean sheet for the Lilywhites

Paulo Gazzaniga, whose expected to start beneath the sticks, will be hoping for a very quiet evening. Since stepping in for Hugo Lloris, after he picked up a dislocated elbow in October, the Argentine shot-stopper has struggled to keep clean sheets — three across 21 outings — and it’s been more apparent following Mourinho’s appointment.

Mourinho, renowned for instilling defensive discipline into his teams, has only witnessed one shutout since replacing Pochettino in mid-November, that sole ‘0’ was kept five games into his Spurs career against a hapless Burnley side. It’s been a struggle following that occasion and we can see it continuing even if there’s a big disparity between the sides.

5. Mourinho maintains 100% record

Even if Spurs concede we expect them to face Southampton on FA Cup fourth round weekend. They should, especially if Mourinho fields the big-hitters, prove to be too much for the 16th-placed Championship side.

The victory will subsequently maintain his 100% record at home against Boro; interestingly across those four previous matches — all coming in the Premier League — he’s seen just one goal conceded. That came last time out in December 2016 when Grant Leadbitter put the Yorkshire-based visitors in front against Manchester United before Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba turned things around.

Progression will also cement Mourinho’s record of never losing a third-round tie, a stat he is undoubtedly proud of. It’s worth noting, six of his seven previous successes all came at home, the odd one out being a 2-0 win at Derby County whilst managing Chelsea in January 2014. Going further, considering the present status of Boro, he’s won 13 of his 14 FA Cup matches against lower-league opposition, losing only to Bradford City with Chelsea in January 2015.