With the season concluded I thought I’d take an early look at the three best ways to improve the current 20 teams in England’s premier football decision. I will break it down into 20 separate articles as a series of sorts in order to keep it shorter and more manageable to read so keep an eye out!
Appoint a new Manager – I have to admit I thought Aitor Karanka would be at least relatively successful at Boro. Arguably, ending their Premier League drought and returning them to top flight football wasn’t a bad addition to his CV but his emphasis on defence – whilst admirable – ultimately failed them in their bid to lengthen their stay.
Middlesborough conceded only 53 goals which would put them in the top 10 teams in defensive statistics. In fact, its a better return than Bournemouth who finished 9th in the League. But the money invested in Alvaro Negredo, Adama Traore and Viktor Fischer only reaped them 27 goals (the league’s lowest) causing them to win an embarrassing 5 games; one less than lifeless Sunderland.
The problem though was a lack of contingency. They sacked Karanka in order to save their season but instead of appointing someone inspirational like a Sam Alladyce or tactically astute like a Paul Clement, they simply handed the reigns to little known Steve Agnew resulting in absolute free fall.
Should Middlesborough have any hope of navigating the long and arduous Championship division and return to the riches of the Premier League they will need someone with much better pedigree than Steve Agnew.
Sign a Striker – Alvaro Negredo only ever signed to Middlesborough on loan with an option to purchase. The man who attracted him to the club, Aitor Karanka, as previously mentioned is gone. So too is the club’s top flight status. Basically he wont be there next season. Their second option is Rudy Gestede. He had shown the ability to score in the Championship for Blackburn (2014-2015) but since then has been incapable of finding the net regardless of his employers.
If Middlesborough are to improve and find a way back, they need goals. Conceding only 53 in the Premier League will stand them in good stead against a season of theoretically inferior opposition but it will take more than 27 to navigate to the top of a very competitive league.
They may find luck, if Chelsea do indeed pursue a big name striker, and a player like Tammy Abraham becomes available on loan. Even fellow club loanee Bertrand Traore would be an interesting option though I doubt he’d drop down having experienced European football this season.
Whichever way they approach the issue though, Middlesborough need goals and an accomplished Championship striker is usually the surest way to start.
Mitigate Losses – Few teams who drop down a league recover instantly; if they recover at all. Bolton have only recently been promoted back to the Championship. Blackburn have just gone the other way whilst Portsmouth are usually battling to stay in league football.
Newcastle are one of the anomaly teams. They retained a large majority of their players with the exception of Georginio Wijnaldum and the inconsistent Moussa Sissoko. In fact with Mohamed Diame and Matt Richie, on the whole their squad arguably improved, not to mention they kept hold of their Champions League winning manager; they still only just won the Championship on the last day of the season.
I can’t see there being too many losses for Middlesborough but they will lose key players even so. Ben Gibson, their leader and best player in my opinion, will surely leave creating a gaping hole in the back line. Negredo wont return making them even weaker going forward and their most creative midfielder Gaston Ramirez should find himself with better offers than what would look to be a mid table championship team.
Middlesborough, to have any hope, need to keep as much of the team as possible in order to rebuild. Players like Fischer and Traore could probably do with a full year of playing in a slightly lower level of English football. They have more than enough natural talent to become decent players and so a year in the Championship may be beneficial for their development.
They are a well structured side who just lacked that extra ‘IT’ factor to survive so as long as they can mitigate their losses and consolidate next season, they will be in a good position for a quick rebuild in order to bounce back.