Back in the big league for the first time in seven years, Middlesborough are embarking on what they hope to be another long stint in England’s top division having gained promotion from the Championship last season with a second place finish. Out of the three teams promoted, I analyse why Middlesborough will be the one to make waves this upcoming EPL season.
First of all, the Boro manger has quite the resume. Spaniard Aitor Karanka spent 13 years in Spain’s top division, La Liga, playing for the likes of Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao, primarily as a central defender before finishing his career in the United States with the Colorado Rapids.
In June 2010, Karanka was appointed assistant manager at former side Real Madrid by newly appointed Jose Mourinho. Karanka spent a successful three years at the club under Mourinho, helping the club win the La Liga in 2012, the Copa del Rey in 2011 and Supercopa de Espana in 2012 before leaving the club with the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti.
In November of 2013, Karanka was appointed as manager of Middlesborough, replacing Tony Mowbray. The club would finish a disappointing twelfth that year before turning results around the following year with a fourth placed finish. Boro would eventually lose out in the Playoff to Norwich City.
Last season though, he gained promotion with the club, helping them to a second place finish. At times throughout the season, they looked like they would claim the title, however they would end up losing out to Burnley by just four points.
Uruguayan striker Christhian Stuani was the club’s top scorer last season with eleven goals. It was the spread of goals that Middlesborough thrived on with Albert Adomah, David Nugent and former Southampton player Gaston Ramirez all pitching in goals. Although they only managed 63 goals in the 2015-16 campaign, the lowest out of the top six, they only conceded 31, the best defensive team in the league.
In a league where they’ll go into most games as underdogs, having a solid team defence is crucial to the side getting anywhere in the 2016-17 Premier League campaign.
The ‘Smoggies’ have conducted some very good business in the transfer market ahead of their return to the top division signing former City striker Alvaro Negredo on a season loan from Valencia as well as right-back Antonio Barragan, Victor Valdes on a free transfer, Brad Guzan from Aston Villa and young Ajax prospect Viktor Fischer.
Their pre-season form has been solid finishing their preparations with a five-game unbeaten streak. With the real stuff coming now, Boro will be pleased that everything has run smoothly thus far. They’ve avoided major injuries and they’ve looked more organised as the summer has progressed. New signings are settling in with Negredo, Valdes and Barragan pretty much certain starters come opening day.
Looking at their first few games, it reads quite well for the North Yorkshire club. Stoke at home on Sunday morning can go either way but trips to Sunderland and West Brom will have Boro fans quite confident of getting something out of both of those games. The first real tough period comes in September with matches against Everton, Tottenham and West Ham.
However, Karanka’s side could be well placed by the time those games come around. A tough November sees them face Manchester City, Chelsea and Champions Leicester City before a favourable December. Their run-in is tough, so it’s best they ensure safety well before April and May to enable them to have a big crack in the last ten game or so.
My verdict is an upper-lower table finish or even mid-table in what I think is a strong Middlesborough side compared to their fellow newcomers. I’m quite confident they’ll avoid relegation comfortably and they should have everything in place to have a few successful years from here on out, establishing themselves as a solid Premier League side.