Sport Soccer

Sunday 24 September 2017

Karanka's former foe Valdes key to Boro survival bid

Ronald Koeman has backed Middlesbrough to retain their Premier League status
Ronald Koeman has backed Middlesbrough to retain their Premier League status

Aitor Karanka says his old LaLiga rivalry with goalkeeper Victor Valdes is a thing of the past as the pair plot to keep Middlesbrough clear of the Premier League relegation zone.

Former Barcelona number one Valdes, a summer acquisition from Manchester United, was in superb form to deny Romelu Lukaku and Ademola Lookman as Boro claimed a precious point in a goalless draw with Everton on Saturday.

Having had a close-up view of Valdes during his own spell as assistant to Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, Karanka said he was always keen to overcome traditional enmities and bring the vastly experienced stopper to the north east.

And he believes, with Valdes having put a serious knee injury and a disappointing spell at Old Trafford behind him, the 35-year-old is now ready to give his side a major survival boost.

Karanka said: "When he was injured three years ago I was at Real and he was at Barcelona, so our relationship was not the best.

"The last two years were very difficult for him and I am really pleased for him because when I first got him I was trying to convince him to enjoy his football again.

"It is important for players to enjoy their football and Victor is a top player. He is important on the pitch and in the dressing room he is helping a lot with the young players."

A point for Boro leaves them hovering just above the drop zone, without a win in their last eight league games, but their confidence will have been boosted by a bright display against Ronald Koeman's men.

In a stirring second-half performance captain Ben Gibson saw a header cleared off the line by Leighton Baines before substitute Rudy Gestede had the best chance in the 88th minute with another powerful header that was brilliantly saved by Joel Robles.

Koeman, who admitted a draw was a fair result, will now whisk his team off for a mid-season break in Dubai, but insisted there will be no slacking off as they prepare to face Sunderland in a fortnight's time.

And Koeman confirmed both James McCarthy and Kevin Mirallas would be a part of the travelling group, having been left out of the squad for the Riverside Stadium purely as a precautionary measure.

Koeman said: "The plan is to go from Monday to Saturday, but it's no time to take a holiday. We will train every day and play a friendly on Friday.

"It's good to stay together and have good communication and keep the momentum of the season - it's all about finishing strong in the league.

"I think the team is really fit and we can fight until the last second to have a better result. It's good to have a balance between training and recovery and I think it's a good place to go."

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