Garry Monk took over Middlesbrough on June 9th, 2017. When Monk took the Boro job he was faced with a huge task. Firstly, he had to help the players regain their confidence after they were relegated from the Premier League. He was then faced with the task of replacing key players that had left over the summer including Gaston Ramirez, Alvaro Negredo and Victor Valdes. Monk would also have to match Boro chairman Steve Gibson’s vision of ‘smashing the Championship’ while also adding some much-needed pace, flair. And probably most importantly a real goal scoring threat. Garry Monk would also have to maintain the high defensive standard that Boro were so accustomed to under Aitor Karanka.
This article will endeavour to assess three main areas. These are Boro’s defence under Monk, attack under Monk and signings made under Monk. The first thing to be assessed is how well Middlesbrough are doing defensively under Monk compared to previous bosses and in general in the league this season.
Starting with previous bosses, Middlesbrough’s last full time manager was Aitor Karanka. And when you think of Karanka the first thing that should probably come to mind is a solid defence. Karanka was renowned on Teesside for being able to keep clean sheets and concede very few goals.
This was very evident in his two full seasons in charge of Boro in the Championship. In the 2014/15 Championship season, Middlesbrough conceded just 37 goals in 46 games, the least in the league that season. The season after, Middlesbrough let in just 31 goals in 46 games. Once again this was the lowest in the league. Even when Karanka got Middlesbrough promoted to the Premier League, they still had a solid defence. Before Karanka was sacked in March of 2017, Boro had one of the best defences in the Premier League outside of the top six teams. This showed Karanka had his side very well drilled defensively.
However, when Steve Agnew took temporary charge of Boro on March 16th, 2017 till the end of the season, Middlesbrough’s defence somewhat fell apart. This included two seriously embarrassing defensive displays vs Bournemouth and Hull City in which Boro let in four in each game.
So, it was clear that Middlesbrough’s defence had been damaged by Agnew’s reign as manager and that their confidence was waning. Therefore it would be up to Monk to help Boro’s defenders get back to the top form they hit under Karanka. The question is has he done that?
For the most part this season, the answer is yes. Middlesbrough have played 16 league games this season under Monk. In those 16 games, Boro have conceded 13 goals. This is currently the joint lowest in the Championship along with Cardiff City. Boro have also kept seven league clean sheets under Monk. Only Wolves have kept more this season with eight.
Monk also seems to have helped Daniel Ayala start to get back to his best. Ayala had a very rocky season in the Premier League. He struggled for game time, got injured, suspended and he looked a shell of the player that led Boro’s back line to promotion in the 2015/16 season.
However, under Monk, Ayala has begun to get in a consistent run of games in which he has been performing well, for the most part. Therefore, given that Boro have the joint best defence in the Championship and that Monk is helping rebuild Ayala’s confidence, you could say that so far this season, Monk has done quite well with the defensive side of things at Boro.
Moving on to Middlesbrough’s attack under Monk. It’s no secret that when Boro were in the Premier League last season they struggled for goals. This was due to a combination of things. Including Karanka’s defensive style of play and the fact that once Gaston Ramirez lost his head in January over a move to Leicester City that fell through, Boro had little to no creativity in the side.
This lead to Boro scoring a dismal 27 league goals in 38 games last season. So, it was clear that Monk needed to add some creativity to a side that had virtually none. Especially when Ramirez left Boro for the Serie A over the summer.
Unfortunately for Boro, Monk hasn’t really done so. Despite being in charge since June, Monk failed to sign any real creativity. The closest he got to signing a true number 10 is Lewis Baker. But Baker is used to playing a lot deeper than the CAM role. So, when he was put there he didn’t exactly set the world on fire.
This has lead to Middlesbrough, at times, struggling to score goals and break teams down. It has also lead to Middlesbrough having four strikers on the pitch at once in an attempt to break a team down. But as there is no Ramirez type player there to set them up, it is a somewhat futile exercise.
The lack of creativity is very evident in when you look at the current Championship table. Currently, Middlesbrough have scored 21 goals in 16 league games. This is the lowest of all the clubs in the top 10. Given that Boro are wanting to bounce straight back up to the Premier League, having the lowest goals scored off the top 10 Championship teams is simply not good enough. And unless they start to score more, it’s unlikely they will be promoted this season.
This would, therefore, suggest that Garry Monk has failed to address the glaring creativity problem in the Boro side which have troubled them since last January.
The final area that will be assessed is Monk’s transfer dealings since his move to Boro. Monk had a full summer window and huge backing from the board to bring in an abundance of new players to replace the likes of Valdes, Negredo and Ramirez.
Garry Monk took full advantage of Gibson’s backing as he signed 10 new first team players. And spent just over £50 million. While a couple of signings have been much more miss that hit, the majority of Monk’s signings have been solid.
For example, a huge problem Middlesbrough have had for years now is that they haven’t really had a true goal scorer. However, Monk signed Britt Assombalonga from Nottingham Forest and so far he has scored eight in 16 league games. A very impressive tally, especially for someone playing for Boro.
Middlesbrough were also in need of a new keeper as star man Victor Valdes moved on over the summer. Monk decided it would be Darren Randolph who would replace the Spaniard. And what a good signing he has proven to be. Randolph has kept Boro in countless games with some excellent saves including several in their last match vs Sunderland.
Monk also brought in Cyrus Christie who has been outstanding all season for Boro. And also Martin Braithwaite who since returning from injury has been a huge threat for Middlesbrough. Even Jonny Howson who was criticised a lot earlier in the season has started to improve in recent games.
The only real poor signings you could say Monk made are Ryan Shotton and Ashley Fletcher. Shotton has played just once for Boro this season vs Brentford in which he put in a horrid display. As for Fletcher, Fletcher cost Boro £7million and since joining Boro he has scored just once in 14 league appearances. Monk also seems to favour Fletcher over Patrick Bamford which is quite baffling to many Boro fans.
But as already alluded to earlier, Monk did not bring in a number 10 over the summer. Even though he had a huge amount of money to spend and backing from the chairman. Therefore, while many of Monk’s signings have been positive, he did fail to sign any creativity which was what was lacking most for Boro.
Overall, Monk’s time on Teesside has been a strange one. He was tasked with rebuilding a side that had no confidence, no creativity and no goal scoring threat. As of right now, Boro are 5th in the league which isn’t too bad. But after a very slow start to the season, Boro are already nine points off the top of the table.
So, while you can argue Monk has finally got Boro playing well after they won three in a row before the international break, you could also argue that Boro started the season way to slowly and that those three games were against struggling sides.
Also, given how few goals Boro are scoring compared to the teams around them you could say Monk has failed to improve Middlesbrough’s attacking threat as they still haven’t replaced Ramirez.
Finally, if you had told Boro fans on day one of the season, that they would be 5th and nine points off the top of the table in November, many would probably be none too pleased. Because the general expectation of Boro and Monk was to take the straight back up by dominating the Championship, something they have not done so far.
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