Arguably the start to the season has been very, dare I say, Karanka-esque. The team has been built around a solid defensive foundation. Ben Gibson and Dael Fry are starting to build a formidable partnership, whilst Adam Clayton’s quarterback role is the perfect fit. The team isn’t as compact as it was under Karanka, but 1 goal conceded in 3 games would suggest it’s solid. In the forward areas is where there are noticeable differences.
With a front three, Middlesbrough are always ready to attack. The ‘Tippy-Tappy’ approach has been replaced at times by a more direct approach. Some people would say ‘we’re just playing long balls’. But we’re not. We’re getting the ball to the front three quickly and letting them play.
Bamford is showing early signs that he’ll recreate the form which saw him pick up the ‘player of the season’ award. He brings a sense of class to the front three, also looking as though he has an extra couple of seconds of the ball than anyone else. Gestede is playing an unexpected important role in the system. He wins every ball which goes up to him, holds it up and brings others into play.
The arrival of Lewis Baker looks like some fantastic business. His introduction to the game on Tuesday gave Middlesbrough a new sense of life. He had an urgency to move the ball forward. Forshaw has started the season disappointingly, and whilst you shouldn’t really change a winning team, I’d expect Baker to replace him in the near future, if not on Saturday.
The signs are really promising. With a little extra time to gel, players to come back to from injury and new arrivals to the squad, there’s no doubt Middlesbrough have the capabilities of living up to their promotion expectations.
This weekend’s fixture against Nottingham Forest is already a big game. After three results the table is starting to take shape and thankfully Middlesbrough sit towards to the top. In a stark contrast to the last four seasons, Middlesbrough’s current squad make-up has allowed us to field a predominantly British team in the opening fixtures of the season. On Saturday, however, there’s only one Brit who’ll be getting all the attention. Britt Assombalonga.
Britt faces his former club Nottingham Forest for the first time since his big money move to Boro. It’s natural for fans to dismiss the quality of a departing player, keeping pride intact and brandishing former players as ‘not that good’. But if any Nottingham Forest fans tell you they weren’t sad to see him go, then they’re lying. In only three games he’s already proved to be the striker Middlesbrough have been searching for since the Hasselbaink and Viduka era. Pace, power and a clinical finisher. Britt Assombalonga is the complete forward.
Opening his account against Burton on Tuesday night with two goals will give him a confidence boost. With his ability, confidence and determination to prove himself in front of his former supporters, the stage is set for Britt to score at the weekend and lead Middlesbrough to their third victory in a row.
Prediction: Nottingham Forest 0 - 2 Boro
I’m going for another solid victory. Tuesday night showed signs that the team is starting to gel. The defence is solid and Britt knows where the goal is. I don’t think we’re at that point yet in which we’ll score for fun and beat teams by 4 goals. That time will come. But for now, we need to be solid and take our chances. I’d expect the same starting 11, leaving attacking options such as Traore and Baker on the bench to change the game is necessary.