Alex Neil confident he can hold his own against Jose Mourinho’s pupil

Middlesbrough Manager Aitor Karanka learned his trade at Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho. Picture by

Middlesbrough Manager Aitor Karanka learned his trade at Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Alex Neil is confident he can win the tactical battle against Aitor Karanka at Wembley.

Middlesbrough's Spanish boss spent three seasons at Real Madrid being schooled by Jose Mourinho before embarking on his own managerial career. Neil may not have such a glittering back story, but the former Hamilton chief has forged a reputation at Carrow Road as an astute operator.

'The one thing about football I think is people can complicate it too much,' he said. 'It is a relatively simple game – if you don't have the ball, get it back. If you have it, try and score. The tactical side and how you go about that is when it becomes a wee bit more complex. We know how Middlesbrough like to set-up and how they approached the game at our place. With what is at stake and the atmosphere (at Wembley) it is difficult to sit in. I don't think you can go too defensive because if you do concede a goal, to then change your mindset and go and attack is extremely difficult. We have to look to get the balance right between the two.'

Neil rejects any fears City could suffer a repeat of the sluggish start which proved decisive in the Teessiders' 1-0 league win.

'Everything we do in those first 10 or 15 minutes has to be about us getting on the front foot, so we stamp our authority,' he said. 'We have spoken regularly about getting out of the traps quickly and having watched that game numerous times our use of the ball wasn't that bad. We just made vital mistakes at vital times and gifted them pressure – in terms of giving the ball away in a silly area or conceding silly corners. The goal they actually scored from was a corner we didn't clear properly in the build-up. Those little incidents in a game can change the momentum and put you on the front or back foot.'