Middlesbrough may have lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-final, but Chris Wilder’s side can still hold their heads up high.
Middlesbrough overcame Premier League giants Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in earlier rounds, but they couldn’t make it three top flight scalps on the spin as they took on European champions Chelsea in the last eight.
First-half goals from Romelu Lukaku and Hakim Ziyech on Saturday saw Chelsea through after a 2-0 win, meaning Boro miss out on a trip to Wembley and a place in the semi-finals.
Speaking to the press after the game, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel admitted that they adapted their own game to deal with a potent Middlesbrough threat.
The German picked out two players in particular who his side looked to stifle in the Boro ranks.
“We prepared like any other match in the best way possible and adapted a little bit in the structure,” said Tuchel.
“They push their right wing-back [Isaiah] Jones very high, he plays almost like a winger, so we adapted with [Malang] Sarr to have the physical strength and speed to match this attacking force of Middlesbrough.
“We knew their captain [Jonny Howson] is a key figure in the middle of the pitch and didn’t want to have him too much involved in the rhythm and distribution.”
This is high praise indeed from Tuchel. Often better sides won’t adapt their games based on their opponent and will focus on their own game, yet Chelsea found it necessary to ‘adapt their structure’ to deal with Jones and Howson.
The Middlesbrough duo did have moments in the game where they got the better of their Chelsea counterparts.
But Sarr at left wing-back and the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mason Mount, and Mateo Kovacic in the middle of the pitch ultimately had the last laugh as they knocked Boro out of the cup competition.
The Blues will now face Crystal Palace whilst Manchester City play Liverpool in the other semi-final.
Middlesbrough’s attention will now turn back to the Championship. After the international break they take on Peterborough United at the Weston Homes Stadium, before facing league leaders Fulham three days later.