Aitor Karanka: Manchester United more than just Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Middlesbrough head coach Aitor Karanka has warned his players not to be fooled into believing they can succeed at Manchester United just by shackling superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The 35-year-old Sweden international has taken to life at Old Trafford with his usual self-confidence and richly rewarded manager Jose Mourinho with 17 goals to date, 12 of them in the Premier League.
Karanka, who learned his trade at Mourinho's side during their time together at Real Madrid, knows his side will have to keep a firm grip of Ibrahimovic if they are to emerge from their trip across the Pennines on Saturday with anything to show for their efforts.
However, he is also acutely aware that the larger-than-life United frontman is far from the Red Devils' only threat.
He said: "He is one of the best players in the world. He is still young even when he is 30-and-I-don't-know-how-many-more. He is a big reference for them, he's a player I know Jose likes a lot.
"But behind Ibrahimovic, there is [Paul] Pogba and [Ander] Herrera and [Juan] Mata and a lot of players. Speaking about Jose's team, it's like here [Boro]: it's about the team.
"Manchester United are playing well, they are organised and they have amazing players. But again, they are not just one or two or three. They have a lot of good players, but above everything is the team."
Boro head for Old Trafford having lost three of their last four league games, the latest of them at Burnley on Boxing Day.
However, they remain in 15th place in the table and four points above the drop zone, and perhaps more importantly, on track to achieve Karanka's only aim for their first season back in the top flight, survival.
Asked for his assessment as the season approaches its halfway point, the Spaniard said: "It's difficult, but I can tell you that I would have signed at the beginning of the season to be in this position - and more than this position, the way that we are playing because we have 18 points and sometimes we have not played well.
"But now we have 18 points and the consistency that we are showing is really good. We can compete against everybody, so it's important.
"It's about adding experience and keeping playing in that style."
Boro will be without suspended defender Antonio Barragan and injured winger Viktor Fischer, but their number could be boosted within days with the club understood to be in talks with Aston Villa over striker Rudy Gestede, although Karanka was giving nothing away.
He said with a smile: "The market is open on January 1 or 2, so for now, it's Manchester United."