Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka has warned that over-confidence could be the greatest threat to his team’s chances of securing another top-flight scalp in the Capital One Cup quarter-finals tonight.
Boro head into their Riverside Stadium clash with Everton in buoyant mood having moved up to second place in the Championship on the back of successive victories over Queens Park Rangers and Huddersfield.
And they also have no doubt they can cut it on the big occasion having followed up last season’s FA Cup win at Manchester City by seeing off Manchester United on penalties in the previous round. But Karanka warned: “That can be our biggest problem. To think that because we beat Manchester City and Manchester United and played well against Liverpool and Arsenal, the game will be easy.
“The reason we did well against those teams is that we worked hard for 90 minutes or more. Just because we are close to the top of the table and we beat Man United in the last round and we’re playing at home and will be feeling the atmosphere, to be over-confident would be a big mistake.”
Karanka has a full-strength squad to choose from for the game against Roberto Martinez’s Toffees, and he could hand Uruguayan striker Cristhian Stuani his first start since he recovered from an injury sustained on international duty.
And he knows full well the threat posed by Everton having struck up a good relationship with Martinez, who was the first to send him a letter of congratulation upon his appointment at the Riverside Stadium in 2013.
Karanka revealed: “He [Martinez] is a person I have to thank a lot because he was the first one I was speaking to when I arrived here. He helped me a lot because in the beginning it was difficult for me and he helped me improve and settle in.
“He sent me a letter to say welcome and congratulations and he said I had arrived at the best place to be a coach and after two years he was completely right.”
One significant piece of advice that could come back to haunt Martinez was his suggestion that Karanka treat cup games in England much more seriously than leading clubs often do in Spain.
“At the beginning we were playing Hull in the cup and he said in Spain teams don’t put their best teams in the cup because they don’t have the same importance as the league. But here in England it is different,” added Karanka.
Kevin De Bruyne, meanwhile, has set his sights on brushing off Hull City’s challenge to pursue his first trophy in English football. The Belgian international, who has made a major impact with Manchester City since joining from Wolfsburg in the summer, is likely to feature in tonight’s home quarter-final against the Tigers.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini has fond memories of the competition – it was his first trophy in English football in 2014 – and is likely to resist the temptation to field a weakened line-up against the opponents from the Championship.
De Bruyne, the 24-year-old who was signed for £54million, said: “ It would be nice to play in the Capital One final because if you win it’s the first trophy of the season. Obviously I think we will try everything to win this.”
Mark Hughes has warned Stoke they must treat Sheffield Wednesday with respect to avoid becoming their next victim. They host the Owls in the Capital One Cup quarter final tonight with the visitors having already claimed the top-flight scalps of Newcastle and Arsenal.
Wednesday shocked the Gunners 3-0 in the last round having already stunned the Magpies at St James’ Park and Hughes said: “We won’t underestimate Wednesday in any way, shape or form.”