Aitor Karanka knows a thing or two about winning, both as an assistant coach to Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid as well as his own playing career at the club that saw him win a league title as well as three Champions League trophies in the late 90s and early 2000s. In fact, as he mentions in his pre-match comments ahead of Sunday's clash against Chelsea, one of those wins came with Real Madrid playing the once again suddenly fashionable three-man defensive system.
"It is difficult to prepare for because there are not many teams playing in that way. We will have to adapt to play against that shape, but we have players who can do that. I have been working in the last two weeks to try to do something against them."
"Other clubs might try to copy them, but it depends. I like that shape because I won a Champions League playing with that shape, but you have to have the right players, and you have to have the right time to work with them. It is a shape that I like a lot, but I am not using. I prefer at the moment to use another shape, but I know it is difficult to play against teams that play in that way."
Karanka was deployed as the right-sided center back of the three, alongside fellow Spaniards Iván Campo and Iván Helguera. A certain future Chelsea striker, then 21-year-old Nicolas Anelka played in that 3-0 win against Valencia back in May 2000.
It doesn't sound like Karanka will attempt to do what Ronald Koeman tried to do with Everton two weeks ago and match Chelsea's shape, but seeing as how Middlesbrough have managed to earn draws against Arsenal and Manchester City already this season, we should not be surprised if he does his Mourinho-esque best to spoil Chelsea's winning run — whatever tactical shifts that might entail.
"I have been impressed with them. Their manager has settled into the league really well, and within a few months he has his team second in the table and showing they are a really consistent team. They are scoring goals, and it is difficult to score against them."
"I think they are the favourites to win the league because they can take advantage of not playing midweek games in the Europa League or Champions League. In the future, I am sure they will get a benefit from not playing those games."
"They don't have midweek games and that is really important. If you look at our last game against Manchester City, I was asked in the press whether they might have been tired because they had played against Barcelona. We are in November, and those questions are being raised."
"If you look at the last four or five seasons with Chelsea, they were in the same position, but now it is different for them. We are only in November, but some teams are already having problems from a fitness point of view, so imagine what they will be like in February, March or April. They have a really good squad, a really good coach, and they also have that advantage."
-Aitor Karanka; source: Northern Echo
More pre-match hype to live up to then. Let's go!