2016/17 Middlesbrough Season Preview

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2016/17 Middlesbrough Season Preview

Boro seized automatic promotion by only two goals, ahead of nearest rivals Brighton, to reach the Premier League for the first time since 2008.

Current Manager

Aitor Karanka has been at the helm of the club since 2013 and has finally guided his team back to where he hopes they will belong. This was after a tenuous period where he considered ending his time at the club. But, he is firmly back at the club and will look to test his managerial skills in the highest echelon of English football. This will be his debut as a senior manager in any top flight league. This could be a massive test for the relatively inexperienced manager, who only started managing in 2008. But, manager experience may not be an issue. Mauricio Pochettino has only been a manager since 2009, yet has achieved notable success at Southampton and Tottenham. Therefore, Karanka may well have the same success.

Positives from Last Season

A solid defence is vital in the Premier League, which is why Middlesbrough look promising. Last season they held the best defensive record in the Championship with 31 goals conceded. This is around 0.7 goals a match, which actually trumps the joint-best defensive teams in the Premier League, Tottenham and Manchester United with 0.9 goals conceded a match. Whilst there is a wide gulf in quality, not to mention more matches in the Championship, these statistics do hold some promise for the club. The introduction of Victor Valdes and Brad Guzan will bolster this resolute defence, providing experience and quality in goal. They can also use their Premier League experience to organise the defence, passing on advice and guidance.

In addition, there are a wealth of attacking players at the club. Jordan Rhodes, Christian Stuani and David Nugent scored a total of 32 goals last season. This is a good spread of goalscorers to have at the club. It allows for flexibility, to change formations or to experiment with new tactics. Also, it’s important in covering for injuries or lack of form. Middlesbrough have secured the signing of Alvaro Negredo and Viktor Fischer, who really bolster the clubs attacking threat and could both impress next season.

Weaknesses from last season

Despite reaching 55 points and opening a large gap on any rivals for promotion, there was a mid-season slump. It is crucial that such slumps do not occur in the Premier League, else the club will be threatened with relegation. Fortunately for Boro, they did revive their form with six straight wins, before grinding out a string of draws to anxiously confirm their runners-up position.

It appears that some of the players are lacking confidence. Players such as Jordan Rhodes have been deemed as “not the strongest of characters” by Aitor Karanka. Carrying such self-doubt on the horizon of a new Premier League season could cause big issues. Another step up in quality will exacerbate such confidence issues, which must be eased by the start of the season.

Pre-season progress

Boro have a 100% win record in their three friendlies thus far and look to extend the run against Real Sociedad. In the three matches, only one goal was conceded (against Aston Villa), whilst smashing in 11 of their own. Their opponents were York City, Doncaster Rovers and Aston Villa. All but Aston Villa were warm-up matches and not a real test. Whilst their pre-season form looks promising, it’s important not to inflate their confidence before facing much superior opposition.

Key Players

Viktor Fischer

At the price of £3.8m, Fischer joined from AFC Ajax. At the age of 22, he has already made 89 appearances in the Eredivisie, scoring 24 goals. For his country from youth to senior level, he has represented them 62 times, scoring 31 goals. Already in his career, he has had a habit of scoring goals, which will be important to maintain in the Premier League. Indeed, his promise has been recognised in 2012, with accolades such as Danish Talent of the Year 2012 and Ajax Talent of the Year 2012–13. This exciting player could form one of Boro’s key players, providing attacking flair to trouble defences.

Cristhian Stuani

29-year-old Stuani  scored 7 goals last season and will be looking to advance this total in the Premier League. He has vast experience, scoring for 7 clubs, a total of 107 goals overall. Relying on young players potential is risky, but he is guaranteed to provide an attacking threat in any league he plays in.

Key matches

Sunderland

The Tees-Wear derby will commence again after so long. The two big days are on the 21st of August and the 11th of March. Between both dates, the two clubs’ positions may vary drastically, which could make the second match all the more important. Sunderland aren’t just rivals geographically, but in terms of points too as they will be looking to scrap their way up the table, to avoid another relegation battle.

Leicester

An encounter with last season’s champions could be an interesting affair. Once upon a time, these two teams met in the Championship, whereby Leicester triumphed twice in the 2013/14 season. The matches will be played out on the 26th November and the 2nd of January.

If they can put in consistent performances week in, week out, Boro should be able to survive in the Premier League.