Middlesbrough and Aston Villa are quite equal actually, but Aston Villa is much better organized in defence, and because of that, I believe that they have a biggest chance of getting a promotion through play-offs. Middlesbrough has a great squad, they are excellent in attack, and Tony Pulis has enough experience to lead Middlesborugh to Premier League. I expect this match to be much tougher than Derby vs Aston Villa.
Lewis Grabban needs to start?
Scott Hogan is a great player, he has a lot of potential, but he still hasn’t found his form for Aston Villa, while Lewis Grabban has been excellent lately. It’s quite important who will be in attack for Aston Villa, because both clubs are good at a back, and this clash can easily finish with one goal leading a team to the finals. For Aston Villa, it would be perfect if that goal could be scored in the first game, they have enough quality to produce goals, and they have a better chance of scoring in the first game since Middlesbrough will certainly attack more at home. Robert Snodgrass and Albert Adomah will probably start, they have been quite useful in attack so far for Aston Villa and they can easily produce more goals in play-offs.
Aston Villa should rely on their defence?
Their defence is probably the best part of their team. Aston Villa does not concede too many, they are well organized in defence and they are confident enough to rely on their defence. When you play against Middlesbrough it’s easier to score on a counter, that’s why the first game can be much more important for Aston Villa. They can rely on their defence in both games, Sam Johnstone has been magnificent for Aston Villa this season as much as their whole defence, but in the first game Aston Villa should be looking to score on a counter, so they can make the second match quite easier for themselves. This will be a tough challenge for Aston Villa; both teams are playing a similar style of football but Aston Villa has already won an away game against Middlesbrough, and they can do it again in play-offs.
Should Tony Pulis continue with a 4-3-3?
Middlesbrough is conceding a lot lately, but as long as they are scoring more they should continue playing in the same formation. However, I don’t think that they can win against Aston Villa with the 4-3-3. What Tony Pulis need to try, is playing both Britt Assombalonga and Patrick Bamford upfront. It’s simple, both strikers are in excellent form, and they have a lot of options in attack to break Aston Villa’s defence. Adama Traore is an excellent player, but he is better when they play on counter because of his speed, if Aston Villa relies on their defence, Adama Traore won’t be as good as he usually is, and that’s why I believe it’s better for Tony Pulis to start both Britt Assombalonga and Patrick Bamford.
The first game can be crucial for Middlesbrough?
If Middlesbrough wins the first game, the second one will be much easier for them. If they win, Aston Villa has to attack, and if they do, Middlesbrough is having a better chance of scoring. It will be hard for Middlesbrough to organize their defence, for example, Daniel Ayala is good when it comes to scoring, but he makes a lot of mistakes at a back. He can easily be a hero on Saturday as he scores a lot of headers, but he needs to step up in defence as it’s not that easy to defend against Aston Villa. For me, if anyone can win against Aston Villa in play-offs that’s Middlesbrough, they have enough confidence, enough experience and their squad is has been good enough to compete for promotion from the start.