There are a number of encouraging signs and areas of the squad that have improved under Monk and also in terms of personnel.
It’s been a while since Middlesbrough had a striker that looked like he could break the 20 goal mark (Bamford came close a few years back), even in the promotion season goals were largely shared. Britt Assombalonga offers us something very different in the final third, he’s not restricted to one type of goal. Equally adept at scoring poachers efforts or like his goal against Barnsley, using his pace and movement to split the defence.
Speaking of forwards, Martin Briathwaite after a lengthy lay off is starting to show what he’s all about. He looks like a smart player with great technical ability, certain to be a fan favourite with the amount of passion he shows for the team. Let’s hope he can stay fit and not misused due to his versatility.
When examing the defence, Darren Randolph has been a very good buy with some match-defining saves but much of the plaudits have to go to young Dael Fry. Fry has been excellent (bar the Norwich mistake) and looks incredibly mature and composed beyond his years, this season could be the making of him.
Well, unfortunately, the start to the season hasn’t been quite what we were hoping for but this is largely down to the amount of upheaval during the summer.
Firstly, Garry Monk is still yet to find out what his best defensive partnership is this season, using Gibson with Fry, Shotton and Ayala with varying results. For me, the best I’ve witnessed so far is Fry and Gibson, both being local lads and also very comfortable playing the ball out from the back. Shotton has looked very short of match practice, enduring a torrid debut. Ayala from a confidence point of view looks miles behind the defender we witnessed under Karanka, which is a real shame. Defensively this season with looked very porous which, simply put cannot continue if we want to achieve anything this season.
Second, Leeds’ fans will tell you they were frustrated by Monk’s lack of tactical flexibly but this term it’s been quite different. I’m still not sure if Monk is aware of his best XI or formation is right now, players like Adama, Bamford, Johnson and Downing have all staked claims with none fully pinning themselves into a position. Monk needs to get players drilled into one formation, much like Karanka did with the 4-2-3-1 system, everyone knew their roles religiously.
Third, sluggish and slow starts are becoming a worrying trend. Apart from Burton and Bolton, I can’t really think of many games this season when we’ve not either been chasing a game due to a sloppy opening goal or been too slow and predictable. Reasons for this? Perhaps a little bit of pressure and anxiety creeping in from the level of expectation? Maybe our shape is too narrow? Maybe there’s even still a bit of a relegation hangover.
Then there’s Adama, the man who delights and frustrates in equal measure. From tearing apart Bolton to a silly red card at Aston Villa then we hear he’s shown up late for the team bus ahead of the Barnsley trip. It’s not the first time he’s been accused of this, many of the light-hearted “teammate” interviews have regularly said he’s late for training. In terms of ability, he could destroy anyone, but a part of me wonders if he’s destined to go the same way as someone like Mario Balotelli.
In summary, if Middlesbrough were to receive a school grade they'd be a solid C, not terrible but a listed for "must do better". We're 3 points off the play-off places but some big improvements need to happen quickly if we're to get out of this league.
What are your thoughts and what changes would you like to see Monk make?