Middlesborough vs Stoke: Boro backed to make strong start

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Preview

After a seven-year absence, Middlesborough find themselves back in the top flight and have invested heavily in an attempt to consolidate their place. Eight reinforcements have been signed including goalkeeping pair Victor Valdes and Brad Guzan, Spanish-based defensive duo Antonio Barragan and Bernardo Espinosa, former Southampton midfielder Gaston Ramirez and a £15 million spend on Atalanta midfielder Marten de Roon and Ajax forward Viktor Fischer, while Alvaro Negredo arrives on loan from Valencia.

They welcome Stoke City to the Riverside Stadium for only the second time in the Premier League history. Mark Hughes’ side have had a quieter summer with Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen the star arrival, alongside the highly-rated Egyptian teenage winger Ramadan Sobhi. The Potters impressive campaign last season unravelled following their League Cup semi-final penalty shootout exit, with three successive 3-0 league defeats in January followed by three consecutive defeats in April, where they conceded four goals in each match.

Despite this, a top half finish was secured despite conceding a total of 55 goals – nobody outside the bottom five were more defensively brittle and such poor finishes to campaigns do not bode well for the following season.

With this in mind, new-look Middlesborough are favourites to make home advantage count on their return to the top flight, with betfair offering the most tempting odds of 8/5 on a victory for Aitor Karanka’s men.

Stoke, who recorded only two league wins in 2016 (Bournemouth and Watford) are less fancied by the bookies, sportingbet put them at 27/10, while a draw is 9/4 with Marathon Bet.

The pair have met only twice since 1998, with one-goal home wins for each in the 2008/09 season, which eventually saw Boro relegated.

A range of bookmakers have former Man City striker Negredo at 5/1 to score the first goal at the Riverside, with strike partner Jordan Rhodes at 6/1 with Coral. In terms of the visitors, Peter Crouch, Marko Arnautovic and Joselu are all 8/1 across various bookies to get the goal scoring underway.

Negredo – who has hit only 19 league goals across the last three seasons in both England and Spain – is 28/13 with 888 Sport and Unibet to score anytime, while bet365 offer 10/3 on Bojan, Mame Biram Diouf and Arnautovic to make their mark at any time for Stoke.

With a lack of many prolific goal scorers on show, betting that at least one side won’t score is a tempting 4/5 with BetVictor and Paddy Power.

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