We can play against big teams says Karanka ahead of Manchester City v Middlesbrough

RIGHT MAN TO FILL IN:  Dean Whitehead could be set to play at right-back
RIGHT MAN TO FILL IN: Dean Whitehead could be set to play at right-back

MIDDLESBROUGH will embrace and not be overawed by Manchester City tomorrow, just like they weren’t at Liverpool in September.

Boro take on the defending Premier League champions at the Etihad Stadium (kick off 3pm) in the fourth round of the FA Cup, with the memory of that dramatic night at Anfield four months ago offering hope to the Teessiders.

Boro took the Reds to penalties where the hosts won an epic shootout 14-13. The Capital One Cup third round loss, however, did not scar the Teessiders – rather it proved that they can compete with country’s elite.

And that is a message that head coach Aitor Karanka has been reinforcing to his players since Tuesday’s 2-1 win against Cardiff that propelled them into second place in the Championship.

“It’s good for the players to show why we are doing really well in the Championship and that we can play against big teams,” he told BBC Tees.

“There is a big, big difference between us but football is football.

“It will be a difficult, difficult game but we have to think that we can fight face-to-face against them in the same way we did against Liverpool.

“It’s good for us to analyse because the images are perfect so we don’t have any excuses to prepare for the game.”

Having cut an eight-point gap in recent weeks to leaders Chelsea, City’s title hopes took a hit last weekend when Arsenal managed a rare feat of beating Manuel Pellegrini’s men at home.

Next week Chelsea host City and there could be the temptation for manager Pellegrini to rest some of his regular starters with the following weekend in mind.

Should that occur, it won’t make Boro’s task any easier.

“When a team like Man City have lost a game against Arsenal at home, they want to win the following one as soon as possible, so we know how dangerous they are,” Karanka added.

“It’s difficult because they have a lot of options, a lot of players to choose from.

“They’re all really good players, but their style is the same whoever plays for them.

“When we play against one of the better squads in the world it is amazing for us.

“Maybe the players and club can go enjoy it, but I will tell you after the game if I have enjoyed it! It’s a game to enjoy for our club and the supporters deserve games like Liverpool and tomorrow.”

Tomas Kalas is a doubt at right-back, having limped off in midweek. With Ryan Fredericks also touch and go, it could mean that Boro’s problematic position could be filled by versatile midfielder Dean Whitehead.