Boro v Sheffield United Preview
If anyone was expecting Middlesbrough FC to breeze through the season to the eventual outcome of becoming Champions, then Saturday’s defeat at Wolves will have provided them with a stark realisation that the Championship doesn’t work like that.
It’s a hard league, where no result is a given no matter how big the perceived gap in quality between two teams is. The performance at Wolves wasn’t what fans were expecting after a summer full of nothing but positives. Garry Monk, with the backing of Gibson, added much needed firepower to squad with the acquisition Assombalonga, Braithwaite and Fletcher to the tune of around £30m. Having these strikers is good, but when there’s no service then it’s unlikely they’ll score. Their was a lack of creativity in midfield and a lack of width.
Thankfully for Monk, it wasn’t a disastrous result and there were some positives to take out of the opening day defeat. Firstly, it’s the first competitive game for Monk and his new look Boro squad. They’ll have been working hard during pre-season to put Monk’s style of play into practice, but nothing can prepare them for the competitiveness of the Championship.
It’ll take the players time to gel. The squad is full of talent though, so when they do gel and the new ideas start to flow through the team, then we should see lots of victories.
Secondly, Wolves didn’t really look like scoring. The defence and midfield unit was solid and kept chances to a minimum. Ayala made a terrible mistake which decided the game. Take that away and Middlesbrough were worthy of at least a point. But that’s the Championship. Mistakes are punished and luck doesn’t always balance out.
Seven days later and Monk will be eager to get his first win as Boro boss in his first competitive home game at his new club. With ticket sales passing the 25,000 mark and the TV cameras turning up to watch the title favourites in action, the stage is all set the first 3 points of the season.
But the script was written for the opening day of the season, but Wolves had no interest in following it. Newly promoted Sheffield United will be eager to follow up their victory over Brentford with a positive result on Saturday evening. It’s important Middlesbrough focus on their own game though.
I don’t expect many changes to the team. Randolph will start in goal with the defensive line remaining the same. Although rumours persist around Gibson’s future, I’m confident he’ll stay and if he does, he’ll play a vital part in any success this season.
It’s in midfield where I’d like to see change. Many people were happy to see the back of Gaston Ramirez for obvious reason. There’s no denying his talent though and an over-reliance on him performing was arguably a major factor in relegation last season. A like-for-like replacement is needed in the squad.
The midfield 3 on Saturday lacked real creativity or attacking purpose. Karanka was criticised for playing 3 in midfield last season: a formation which didn’t work. So to persevere with it again seems a little strange. Personally I'd reunite Leadbitter and Clayton as a midfielder partnership and push Howson up as a number 10 behind Assombalonga.
Bamford looked lively when he was brought on, so I’d start him on the right side of midfield with Braithwaite on the left.
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Whilst Saturday’s game against Sheffield United is not crucial to the outcome of the season, it’s vital for the team to build their confidence. If Garry Monk is able to adapt his midfield to allow for some more creativity, the forward three will start to score for fun. I’m predicting a 2-0 victor on Saturday, with goals from Bamford and Assombalonga.
How do you think Boro will line up? What will the score be? Join in the debate on the Middlesbrough FC forum.