All this as well as managing to bring in the services of Garry Monk has meant Middlesbrough FC fans are as excited as we have been since, well… the start of last season’s disappointing campaign. It’s fair to say the lack of attacking quality last season cost us dearly in our return to the top flight, which inevitably resulted in relegation. I take a look at how all the forwards we have brought in could prove vital in this season’s promotion push.
Expectations were high going into our first game of the season, many of us expecting to come out with either one or three points, but as ever with high expectations come bitter disappointments. This wasn’t what was in the script. Boro suffered a narrow loss against a strong Wolves side, who I believe will be promotion candidates come the end of the season. They looked a well organised outfit, with a few players among the Championship elite. Monk deployed a 4-3-3 system, the front three narrow, allowing the full back’s to push on. We were essentially playing three striker’s, which matched the defensive three of Wolves. However, due to the exposure left in the wide area’s, wolves took control in large parts of the game.
Saturday saw the debut of Boro’s new main man, the most expensive player to wear the Boro shirt, Britt Assombalonga. Eyebrows were raised when the former non-league striker joined us for the £15 million fee confirmed by the club. Yet, There is no doubt from supporters and staff of previous club Nottingham Forest, barring any injuries he will be worth every penny. His class shone for Boro throughout his debut against Wolves. His work ethic was marvellous, his movement exceptional, but what surprised me was his technical ability on the ball. There were times he would drop deep and pick up the ball, which allowed Braithwaite, Fletcher and Bamford to push forward to create more options. Bamford also impressed after replacing Ashley Fletcher in the second half.
However, Fletcher and Braithwaite didn’t have the impact they had on the previous game against Bundesliga side Augsburg in our final pre-season game. Both looked lightweight when on the ball and not up to match speed. Although, Braithwaite’s insistence to drop just behind the forwards and into the number 10 role intrigues me, as he did in the previous friendly. Many supporters claim we need a Gaston replacement, but Braithwaite is the option I would go for in that role. He is as skilfull as Gaston, whilst although holding the athletic ability and drive the Uruguayan lacked. Also, this was just Fletcher’s second game for Boro, whilst also only spending a week in training in the North East, so wouldn’t worry about his pedestrian role in the game.
Now onto a Benin man, many well….couldn’t care less about. Rudy Gestede. Yet, at times last season looked like a player who could score goals given the service. His performance against Old Trafford comes to mind. His presence in the box immediately changed the swing of the game, and nearly inspired a comeback. Sure, he isn’t going to be a regular starter this season, but selling him would be a huge mistake. Under Karanka we lacked a plan B. However, with Rudy we have a player who allows us to change our style of play instantly. His height is his biggest attribute, as he has proven throughout his numerous years in the second division. He gives us an option which, at times could prove to be vital. Many home games under Aitor Karanka, when a team would comes and ‘Park the bus’ resulting in a 0-0 game, which not surprisingly has been forgotten by the majority is when we could have used the services of the Ex-Blackburn Rovers man.
Due to Boro’s lack of wingers in the squad, or at least the fact Monk has decided not to make the wide positions vital in this window has shown us he doesn’t expect to use them much this season. Adama being the only noteable winger at the time of writing, with Sheyi Ojo seemingly expected to join in the coming days. The width of the team this season will most likely be coming from the full back’s. Christie provided us with a superb display on Saturday to show us what to expect. As the full back’s push up, Clayton’s new role in the midfield means he drops into the defence which changes Boro’s offensive shape into more of a 3-4-3 formation. The front 3 remaining the same in the transition process from defence to attack, interchanging with each other.
Looking on into the future, the front 3 is where Boro have spent the most of their money this summer and will be the most important part of Monk’s plan’s this season. The pace, strength and athleticism of the forwards is what fans have craved for years, and have finally been rewarded with more than we can count on one hand. All our strikers have the quality at any given moment in the game to produce that something special, whilst also all being worthy of playing counter attack football Monk is wanting to play.
Now of course this is *VERY* early into Monk’s reign in charge, and as the season progresses could see plenty of change. The signing of Sheyi Ojo will give us another needed option, as this will allow us to change to a 4-2-3-1 system, with Adama and Ojo as our wide men, but for now deploying the 3 strikers is our best option.