Over the course of the 2017/18 Championship season, Middlesbrough have used several centre midfield pairings. And at times, three centre midfielders. This has led to several combinations including Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton, Leadbitter and Jonny Howson, Clayton Howson and at one point in the season Adam Forshaw, Clayton and Howson were all starting for Boro.
But as the season progresses, Garry Monk now seems to be sticking with a 4-2-3-1 formation allowing two of the above-mentioned players to start. In Boro’s past three games Monk has gone with the pairing of Grant Leadbitter and Jonny Howson. The pairing has had some success as Boro won all three of these games. But all of these games were against out of form teams.
Plus, in those three games, Adam Clayton failed to make all of the 18 man matchday squads. This sparked some debate among Middlesbrough fans as Clayton had been one of Middlesbrough’s top central midfielder since arriving on Teesside.
Jonny Howson has also come under criticisms from many Boro fans as he has put in some lacklustre displays over the course of the season. So, this article will endeavour to take a look at how all four of Boro’s CM’s have performed this season. And assess which pairing would suit Boro the most going forward.
The first of these will be Boro’s least used CM this season, Adam Forshaw. Forshaw has started just three league games for Boro this season and made four sub appearances. In those four games, Forshaw has not been great.
His defensive work especially has not been up to scratch. He has averaged just 0.6 tackles per games, the lowest of the four. Forshaw also averages just 0.1 clearances per game, no blocks per game and just 0.7 interceptions per game. This makes Forshaw statistically the worst Boro centre mid in terms of defending which is a key part of being a CM in a 4-2-3-1. Especially in a league as competitive as the Championship where any side can cause even the top sides problems.
Adam Forshaw does offer some decent passing play for Boro in at centre mid as his 85.1% pass success rate is the second highest of the four. But apart from that, Forshaw does not offer much to the side. So, it is unlikely that he will be cementing a place in Boro’s starting eleven anytime soon.
The next centre mid who has been forced out of the team in recent weeks is Adam Clayton. It’s no secret that Clayton isn’t great at going forward and providing goals from CM. However, he does provide really solid defensive cover and also some quality passing.
For example, when looking at passing statistics, Clayton is much better than all three of Boro’s other midfielders. He averages 59.5 passes per game, 89.6% pass accuracy per game, 0.6 crosses per game and 3.8 long balls per game. All of these stats are way above Leadbitter, Howson and Forshaw.
Clayton is also very capable defensively. He averages 1.9 interceptions per game, 0.5 blocks per game and 2.7 tackles per games, making him the best defensive minded CM Boro have as he is only beat out in one of those stats by Howson who averages 3.1 tackles per game compared to Clayton’s 2.7.
So, if Middlesbrough are playing against tough opposition, it would seem that Clayton is a must to have in at CM as he can control the game with his quality passing while also providing some good defensive support.
Howson or Leadbitter?
Therefore, this would leave either Howson or Leadbitter to fill the reaming spot next to Clayton. In terms of defending it is Howson who comes out on top offering 3.1 tackles, 1.2 interceptions, 1.1 clearances and 0.3 blocks per games. Howson beats Leadbitter in all of those stats expect blocks which they are tied on.
Moving on to passing it is Leadbitter that comes out on top vs Howson. He averages 0.3 key passes per game, 47.9 passes per game, 81% pass accuracy and three long balls per game. The only stat Howson beats Leadbitter in here is key passes per game as he averages 0.9.
Finally, in terms of offensive play, Jonny Howson looks to be the man Boro need at CM. He averages 0.9 shots per game, 0.9 key passes, 0.9 dribbles an is only dispossessed 0.4 times per game. Howson is superior to Grant in every stat here making him the best-attacking centre midfielder Boro have.
Horses for Courses?
So, overall it would seem that if Middlesbrough are playing easier opposition who are not great at attacking, as they have done in recent games, the Howson-Leadbitter partnership would seem the best bet as they are the best at going forward for Middlesbrough.
However, when Boro play teams higher up the table who are better at creating chances, their best pairing would seem to be Clayton and Howson. Because Clayton is great at sitting deep, controlling the game and defending well. While Howson is good at defending as evidenced by his 3.1 tackles per game but he can also break forward for Middlesbrough in order to try and break down tougher oppositions.
Statistics taken from Whoscored.com
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