Thursday, September 28, 2023

Middlesbrough Season Preview: Can Karanka’s Side Impress After 7-Year Wait?

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Sourav Bhakat
An ardent sports lover who loves to sleep, eat and watch Manchester City play. In that order.

Middlesbrough FC gained promotion to the top-flight of English Football after a gap of 7 years and look determined to prolong their stay there. Aitor Karanka has finally achieved his target of promotion and though it was a topsy-turvy ride all the way they finally gained automatic promotion by the virtue of finishing second.

While Karanka seems to have been forgiven for his drastic actions in March when he stormed out on his players and threatened to quit, the episode is likely at the back of the mind of all involved. Skeptics might argue the fissures created by the spat with the senior players are too deep to be repaired completely but the former Real Madrid assistant coach will be given a fair go this season and by the backing he has received in the transfer market it seems at least the owners and the Manager are on the same page.


Middlesbrough have been the stand-out amongst the promoted teams as far as the transfer window is concerned. They moved early in the summer and snapped up Marten de Roon from Atalanta and followed it up with deals for Viktor Fischer, Bernardo Espinosa and Jordan McGhee on loan from Hearts. At this point, their transfer policy suddenly took an upward turn and Boro pulled off a stunning double scoop of Victor Valdes on a free and Alvaro Negredo on loan. Middlesbrough were also unlucky to miss out on Neven Subotic after the Borussia Dortmund man, unfortunately, failed a medical and the deal was called off at the last minute.


Marten de Roon – Atalanta, £12m

Viktor Fischer – Ajax, £3.8m

Bernardo Espinosa – Sporting Gijon, free

Jordan McGhee – Hearts, loan

Victor Valdes – Free

Alvaro Negredo – Valencia, loan

Brad Guzan – Aston Villa, free


Jonathan Woodgate – released

Damia Abella – released

Rhys Williams – Perth Glory, free

Jonathan Burn – Kilmarnock, loan

Jordan Jones – Kilmarnock, free

Luke Coddington – Huddersfield, free

Andre Bennett – released

Conor Ripley – Oldham, loan

negredo boro

It was widely believed in footballing circles that the pragmatic Karanka would more or less keep faith in the team which won promotion in the first place and look for a couple of value-additions at most. But he defied all expectations and went for the jugular. The fact that Middlesbrough have the capacity to lure players like the Champions League and World-Cup winner Victor Valdes and also sign Spain international Alvaro Negredo bodes well for football in England from a certain point of view. It has certainly given the image of the Teesiders a boost globally and also footballing wise they will be more capable of putting up a good show for the fans.


Aitor Karanka is a disciple of Jose Mourinho and true to his style diligently follows a 4-2-3-1 formation. His teams are built up to defend first and look to retain their shape and compact nature. Players have to work hard and he urges his players to defend from the top. Middlesbrough gained promotion on the back of the best defensive record in the Championship where they conceded a meagre 31 goals. Teams invariably looked to sit deep against them and put 10 men behind the ball, which posed difficulty for Boro to break down their opponents. As they had a certain degree of difficulty breaking down opponents in the lower league it was expected they would be facing even greater difficulty to score in the Premier League.

On the contrary, pundits believe people are discounting the fact that top flight teams are unlikely to sit back against a newly promoted team and as Leicester showed last season, bigger teams take time to change their approach while facing the so-called lightweight teams. Either way, it worked out well for Leicester and Boro will hope something similar ensues for them this season.

While Karanka is considered to be rigid with his formation, incessant calls for him to be flexible according to the needs, have most probably forced him to consider his stance a tad bit. In the pre-season he was seen moving to two men up front a couple of times which bodes well for the team as they will be open to tweaking their system according to the situation of the match. But Karanka’s love for the No.10 role and his inclination to build the team around the player will mean we will see Boro for the majority of the season in his patent set-up.


Middlesbrough will be wary of jumping the gun after a fruitful summer and as with all the teams who are promoted, the top-priority will be to secure their own safety and for that to happen consolidation will be key. Boro should look to play to their strengths and not look to be adventurous and knowing the pragmatic nature of Karanka, he will be on the job reminding the players exactly that.

With the host of new signings, the Riversiders have to make sure they gel together as quickly as possible because if they are slow off the blocks Boro will find themselves towards the end of the table in no time and things start to go wrong when that happens. One the other hand players like Negredo, Ramirez and Fischer have the potential to cause serious damage if they click. But the club will look to secure their safety first and then build on from there.

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