For Premier League fans up and down the country, the International Break is an all-too-regular occurrence as a routine 1-0 qualifying win for England just doesn’t bring the same excitement to the weekend as the unpredictable thrills of the domestic campaign.
For Middlesbrough and Karanka though, the international break has come at a perfect time in many respects. Firstly, it gives Karanka and the coaching staff chance to reflect on the long list of positives from the first three games.
There’s no doubt AK will be very impressed with how the team have seamlessly continued their strong defensive displays which proved successful during the promotion campaign. In the season opener, Stoke were limited to very few chances and Middlesbrough were only denied the three points by a well-struck Shaqiri free-kick even with Barragan operating as a makeshift CB.
Barragan impressed again in the Wear-Tees derby (even if Sunderland fans claim it isn’t a derby) where Middlesbrough claimed their sole win of the season thus far impending further misery of our Mackem rivals.
Middlesbrough’s undefeated start to the season was complete as they held West-Brom to a draw in a rather uninspiring and uneventful ‘Super Sunday’ game. But the former part of that sentence is the most important. Middlesbrough are unbeaten in their first three games of the Premier League season. Whilst there’s no doubt ‘Boro struggled in the attacking third of the pitch, if we put the rose-tinted ambitions of a top 10 finish on hold, then a point away from home is a brilliant results towards the realistic yet still challenging aim of survival.
The disappointment following a draw against West Brom is just a representation of the high standards we set ourselves last season, but with 5 points from three games and still a lot more to come from the team there’s no suggestion that these high standards have dropped.
Karanka now has these two weeks to build on the solid start to the season and work hard on the training ground to allow our forward players to flourish in the coming months. Following the closure of the summer transfer window and the submission of his final 25-man squad (plus Chambers and Adama), Karanka now knows exactly what he has to work with. Middlesbrough have an abundance of defensive options and our solidarity is now so embroidered into our DNA that in many ways our defensive side will take care of itself. It’s the attacking side of the game which many, and I’m sure AK will agree, think needs work.
Middlesbrough have the players to be a real attacking force is the league, but it may take some time. Thankfully, we’re strong enough to continue to pick up points whilst players gradually continue to gel together. Downing has really stepped up his game this season and looks like he could finally prove his worth. Negredo is already proving a hit, so much so Jordan Rhodes hasn’t played a single minute. But he’ll get his chance, he knows that, and that’s why he didn’t leave.
Middlesbrough’s biggest issue currently is RM. Stuani scored two goals against Sunderland and whilst you can’t take anything away from his clear ability and attributes he is not a natural right midfielder. With Adomah departing the club for Aston Villa, the emphasis is really on Adama and Fischer to hit the ground running in the next few weeks. But Adama, who came from Barcelona, is clearly rated and will no doubt have a point to prove. Adama not starting a single game for Villa isn’t a reflection on the player, but on the poor management of a club on the verge of a crisis. He was public about how unhappy he was with the way he was treated at the club so will give his all to prove his worth to AK.
There’s no doubt Middlesbrough are one attacking player short, but if the players we have play to their full potential there’s still lots of reasons to be optimistic.