Middlesbrough vs Liverpool - Karanka pleased Victor Valdes partnership paying off

Posted Wednesday, December 14, 2016 by PA

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka would be forgiven for casting an envious eye over Liverpool's array of attacking talent on Wednesday but he would be unlikely to swap goalkeeper Victor Valdes with Jurgen Klopp.

Both clubs went shopping for a new number one in the summer, with Boro landing former Barcelona stopper Valdes on a free transfer and the Reds drafting Loris Karius from Mainz.

The latter is the younger man by more than a decade and seen as a long-term investment but, after 15 matches of the Premier League season, there is little debate about which of the pair has enjoyed a better start.

While Klopp has become frustrated at the constant criticism of Karius, who has made several high-profile errors, Valdes has established himself as undisputed first-choice in a team that have conceded six goals fewer than any other team in the bottom half of the table.

The 34-year-old's first attempt to crack English football came at Manchester United, an ill-starred switch which saw him exiled from the senior squad by Louis van Gaal. Karanka has treated with a gentler approach, offering personal advice when he started the season somewhat tentatively.

"I cannot speak about what is happening at Liverpool but my experience with Victor is that he's improving a lot," said Karanka.

"He's the player who we wanted to bring in because he's an amazing keeper and a leader in the changing room.

"At the beginning he wasn't at the level he is now but it is understandable. He came from a long period of not playing and before that he came from Barcelona.

"For him it was difficult at the beginning. Maybe I helped him, I had a few meetings with him and now he's doing well.

"As a player I had similar experiences. I have the same mentality as a coach that I had when I was a player. I lived in my career something similar to Victor here."

Further forward, the Teessiders have more room for improvement.

They are the division's bottom scorers with 13 goals and could once again be without Alvaro Negredo and Gaston Ramirez, who have chipped in with five of those.

Ramirez is definitely out with a foot problem but there is a decision to make over Negredo, who is keen to play but may yet be held in reserve for Swansea at the weekend.

Karanka is not getting caught up on the goals scored column, though, and prefers to see the bigger picture.

"We can't forget last season we got promoted on goal difference," he said.

"It's not about how many you score, it's about the goal difference and the difference we have now between us and the bottom three is massive.

"Alvaro can be (available) but we have to check. I don't want to take risks because we have an important game on Saturday too. In the busy Christmas period of this league you can't make mistakes."

Liverpool manager Klopp is remaining calm as his side experience their first wobble of the season.

The Reds have taken just five points from their last four matches with a defeat to Bournemouth and a home draw against West Ham their last two outings.

That has seen them slip from top of Premier League in early November to six points off the pace set by Chelsea and it has impacted on confidence, certainly from a defensive point of view.

Klopp accepts there is little he can do in the way of major changes with their next match coming on Wednesday at Middlesbrough.

"A lot of things to analyse but it's only two days until the next game, so we cannot make the biggest analysis," he said.

"We have to adjust, do a few things, and make little changes and then we are in the next game, that's how it is.

"So, a lot of work to do but not a lot to say because we are still on a good way.

"We had two games which we should have won but we didn't, that cost us five points but it's our mistake, let's carry on, take the good things and sort the not-so-good things."

Fifth-placed Tottenham are only four points behind but Klopp is paying no attention to the table just yet.

"Around the last 10 games you need to be in a position to fight for something," he added.

"I think we have showed we need to be in a position in the table at the very top because we are good enough to be there.

"Only the teams who are there can fight for the very special things in these moments.

"If the gap is getting bigger because of our results, it's our fault, but we don't think about the distance between us and other teams - we only think about the next game.

"And hopefully in a few weeks everything can change in both directions.

"Why should I think about only one direction? It's all good in the moment."

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