Each Monday, I’ll take a look at the week’s Boro action and pick out two stars (hot!) and two duds (not!) and condense it into a piece which is a different (but enjoyable) way of reviewing the Boro. The premise is simple and of course, I welcome any discussion on who has (or hasn’t!) been included in any given week.
What better way to start this feature ahead of the upcoming season, than a review of the last week of Boro action, including that friendly against Augsburg!
HOT – Martin Braithwaite
I have to say, as first selections go, it couldn’t come much easier than Martin Braithwaite. There was an understandable excitement from the fans upon the capture of Braithwaite and the Dane has only added to that in his first week or two at the club. Off the pitch, Braithwaite has been featured regularly in news articles and media coming out of the club and has certainly said all the right things…even going as far as saying that he wants to take Boro back into Europe. Add to this his engagement with fans and other players on Twitter (@MartinBraith) and it’s clear to see he will become a fan’s favourite!
On the pitch, I don’t think anyone can question that Braithwaite was absolutely the standout performer in the last preseason game against Augsburg. The system was fluid but he predominantly occupied the number 10 position and was a constant problem: intelligent link-up, a deft first-touch and an endeavour to drive up the pitch were obvious. He was confident & hungry and was awarded for his efforts with a finely taken goal to level the scores at 1-1. On this showing, it looks as if we have a real player on our hands!
Congratulations Martin on being the first player to feature in the oneBoro ‘2Hot! 2Not!’ feature, I’m sure it doesn’t come much better than this!
HOT – Garry Monk
First and foremost, an honourable mention for Cyrus Christie here who narrowly missed out on being included with a solid performance against Augsburg.
Instead though, I have opted to give the second hot spot to the MFC manager Garry Monk. Speculation was rife on social media and various forums as to what the manager was playing at…“He’s only ever played 4-2-3-1!”, were the cries; “we’ve signed too many strikers”, they proclaimed!
Instead, Monk opted to field Braithwaite, Bamford and Assombalonga in an ULTRA fluid 4-3-3 with Howson, De Roon and Clayton in the midfield and full-backs Christie and Friend providing width. The high press in the first half was evident with Boro consistently pressuring Augsburg when we didn’t have the ball. I counted 3 or 4 different formations that Boro seemed to be shaping up in, it couldn’t have been further removed from predecessor Aitor Karanka’s religious insistence upon 4-2-3-1. Monk also managed to include all the available strikers, with Rudy Gestede and Ashley Fletcher also seeing game time.
If this is a taste of the flexibility and options we have going into the season then there is plenty to be optimistic about and with more incomings and outgoings confirmed, it’s clear that Monk’s “project” (to use his terms) is still in its infancy.
NOT – Oscar Betancourt
For those not familiar, the agent of current Boro pariah Gaston Ramirez.
Frankly, it seems like all of Ramirez’s issues with Boro lie squarely at the door of Betancourt. He can NOT keep his mouth shut and in light of recent events, also can’t be believed on anything.
As much as I do not agree with booing Gaston at a preseason friendly (or at all), the player hasn’t helped himself with association to Betancourt. Firstly, he proclaimed that Gaston was leaving for Betis and that the deal was “basically done”, only for it to fall through. Betancourt then went one further and blamed Middlesbrough for this happening – seeming to indicate that the club had been negotiating without Betancourt present. Now Claudio Ranieri’s Nantes side are interested but with Boro unwilling to budge on valuation and the player not willing to take a considerable pay cut, its unlikely Nantes will have the financial firepower to complete a deal.
Whatever happens in the coming days or weeks with Gaston Ramirez, temper your expectations Boro fans. The chance of the player coming out and apologising as many fans have requested is HIGHLY unlikely. The absolute best that can be hoped for is for the player to ditch the agent and again, this is unlikely.
IF Gaston Ramirez remains a Middlesbrough player and is involved in matchday action, have faith in Monk and the club to have control of the situation and his reintegration.
NOT – Adama Traore
Traore undoubtedly has the talent to be a major player for Boro in the hunt for promotion, however I can’t be the only one left questioning his absolute lack of involvement in the game against Augsburg? Particularly if this is the dress rehearsal for Wolves on Saturday.
Traore was sent out to warm-up during the first half but failed to see a minute of action, remaining as an unused substitution. There could be a multitude of reasons for this but with no news of an injury, where does Traore fit in under Monk?
We are all aware that Traore is most effective wide-right, when he can use his pace and trickery to skip past defenders. The problem with the Augsburg system for Traore is that there was no place for such a right winger and IF this is the preferred system, then he may struggle to find game time without adapting to a more central role (either as a number 10 or a striker). Whether Traore has the abilities or attributes to do this remains to be seen.
I must say I am under no illusions that there will be more than one tactical system deployed by Monk throughout the season and that I firmly believe Traore will be dangerous in this league, however with clubs circling for the former Barcelona man and lots of players vying for those central roles, perhaps he doesn’t fit and will be moved on?
As always, let us know what you think through the oneBoro Forum and @oneBoro Twitter account and be sure to tune in next week when 2Hot! 2Not! will review more transfer dealings and the all-important season opener against Wolves!