Despite being the clubs first top-flight outing in seven years is being greeted with a real air of optimism with the combination of a strong summer of transfer activity and an encouraging preseason campaign to date in which Middlesbrough’s strong organisation and defensive record appears to have only been strengthened by the acquisitions brought in to provide valuable experience to an already strong dressing room.
Middlesbrough will be looking to hit the ground running in the Premier League, and with four of the gentler fixtures kicking off the season (against Stoke, Sunderland, West Brom and Crystal Palace) it will be vital to get some points on the board ahead of what will no doubt be a long and difficult season as we are no doubt in for many twists and turns as the season unfolds.
Stoke City will no doubt provide a tough test for Middlesbrough after a strong 9th place finish last season and with the addition of Joe Allen and the huge boost of having Marco Arnautovic sign a new long term contract, Mark Hughes’ men will be confident of a strong start despite an indifferent preseason campaign.
The debate over Aitor Karanka’s starting line-up continues to rumble on as we approach match day. The biggest talking points are in defence with Daniel Ayala and Bernard Espinosa ruled out it is largely expected for Antonio Barragan to deputise at centre back alongside Ben Gibson meaning Emilio Nsue has the opportunity to lay claim to the starting jersey at right back after an excellent pre-season campaign.
In holding midfield, it is almost certain for Adam Clayton and new signing Marten De Roon to continue their promising partnership after an excellent preseason and barring any unforeseen injuries this is almost guaranteed.
The other positions still to be decided are the attacking positions with Albert Adomah, Stuart Downing, Gaston Ramirez, Victor Fischer and Cristian Stuani seemingly battling for three attacking midfield positions and Jordan Rhodes and Alvardo Negredo battling out for the starting position up front. But with both players impressing in preseason the starting position could go either way and whoever does end up missing out is on the day will almost certainly get a chance to impress in the 2nd half or potentially get a chance to show what they can do from the start in the Wear- Tees derby a week on Sunday.
Predicted Middlesbrough starting line-up: Victor Valdes, Nsue, Barragan, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, De Roon, Fischer, Ramirez, Downing, Rhodes.