Michael Carrick delighted to see Middlesbrough FC embrace step up in class

Michael Carrick was pleased to see his Middlesbrough players enjoy football on another level to set up a potential League Cup final.

A 1-0 win at home to Chelsea in Tuesday's semi-final first leg put the Teessiders in a good position for the January 23 return.

It was Boro's second game against Premier League opposition in three days after going out of the FA Cup at home to second-placed Aston Villa. And with two players going off injured in the first half and others operating out of position, Carrick was delighted with how his squad handled the step up.

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“It was a whole experience at a different level and intensity of football," said the former Manchester United and England midfielder. "(Midfielders Dan Barlaser and Jonny Howson) started the game a little bit out of position, Rav (van den Berg)’s not really a right-back, but a centre-half, and Lukas (Engel) is playing in a tucked-in role more than a standard left-back.

DELIGHTED: Middlesborough manager Michael CarrickDELIGHTED: Middlesborough manager Michael Carrick
DELIGHTED: Middlesborough manager Michael Carrick

"It was a flexible backline so they weren’t really playing in a standard position.

"It’s unbelievable to think Rav is 19 and performing the way he does, while Lukas had a big test one-v-one around the box and had two or three players at different times.

“It’s embracing it. In the last two games, the boys have coped very well. This one was a lot further on in the competition with the expectation and challenge and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

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"The next one (the second leg) will be a new challenge, but we will be ready to perform and look forward to and embrace the challenge as it’s an unbelievable challenge in the position we find ourselves in.

"I thought they were disciplined and really smart tactically and showed some real qualities in certain parts and composure to play."

Luke Ayling, loaned from Leeds United on Wednesday is cup-tied for the second leg but the sight of former Huddersfield Town midfielder Lewis O'Brien on the Boro bench was encouraging.

“He was on the bench to be back around it, really," explained Carrick. "He was never really going to (come on), it was far too soon really. We were stretched enough as it was and it was an opportunity to get him around it. He's done some training, but been out for a long time."

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