Middlesborough have returned to the Premier League after a lengthy absence with an aggressive transfer policy and distinct style of play. It’s time for @liambednarski to run an eye over Boro’s ‘Projected XI’.
If this were basketball we would hear the constant screams of DEFENSE from the Riverside. Middlesborough broke a 30 year record in the Championship for clean sheets recording 22 in 46 games on their way to an automatic promotion.
Promoted teams tend to average a handful of clean sheets although we have been ‘blessed’ with the occasional surprise over the years (Swansea & Birmingham spring to mind earning 14 and 12 respectively).
Judge each team on its merits is the reminder here, there are always exceptions to the general rule. Manager Aitor Karanka is focused on the defensive side of the game with great emphasis on work-rate and diligence from all of his players. His signings (Valdes, Negredo, Fischer) do add an extra layer of quality to the squad and will start the season fit and firing.
In the 4.5 price bracket it is debatable where the Middlesborough defenders figure. Bournemouth & Watford had enticing patches of form last season and remain well priced this season. Whilst Jonny Evans (WBA), Neil Taylor (SWA), Erik Pieters (STO) & Lamine Kone (SUN) present strong options from Premier League mainstays.
The fixture computer has been somewhat generous with Middlesborough’s opening fixtures including Stoke (H), Sunderland (A), West Brom (A) and Crystal Palace (H).
Middlesborough were especially enticing at home last season where they conceded only eight goals in 23 matches. With a reliable formation, managerial tactics and some impressive signings there are players worthy of consideration for your FPL team.
Victor Valdes (4.5) is an extremely competent and experienced goalkeeper who will be between the posts for the opening game. Brad Guzan (4.5) was signed incase of injury and will battle for a bench seat with club stalwart Konstantopoulous (4.5).
Emilo Nsue (4.5) is not a traditional right back. He is more comfortable as a right midfielder with question marks over his role given the signing of Antonio Barragan (4.5). Avoid both for the time being.
Daniel Ayala (5.0) is injury prone and a yellow card magnet. He presents a threat from set pieces and may be favorable for bonus points but I can’t justify the 0.5 price premium. Slight doubt for the season opener, I expect him to start.
Ben Gibson (4.5) is a central defender who will partner Ayala to open the season. Bernardo Espinosa (4.5) has been signed to challenge but is out with injury until at least September. One to consider.
George Friend (4.5) is a popular pick in the 4.5 bracket amongst the FPL community. With only the solitary goal and two assists last season his not an attacking gem but he was widely regarded as the best left back in the Championship. First name on the team sheet. Nailed on to start.
Marten de Roon (4.5) is a new signing who will bring assured performances to central midfield. His ability to break up play and protect the defense is his strength and number one task. Not an FPL asset but important to Boro clean sheets. Starter.
Adam Clayton (4.5) is a constant in the side and also adapt at protecting the defense. Again not a FPL asset but important to the way the team defends. Rock.
Grant Leadbitter (5.0) is expected to be out of action for a month or so. He will be required throughout the season but has minimal FPL impact. Injured.
This is where things get difficult as manager Aitor Karanka is infamous for rotating his attacking players. He requires exceptional work rate at all times, if someone isn’t training well his not afraid to leave them out:
“I always (pick) the best XI and the best eleven players in my head is the XI I put on the pitch. (Fans) have their best XI but they don’t know how (the players are) training, how they are in terms of injuries or pains. It’s difficult for people to understand a lot of things, but I have to manage it and sometimes when one player is not confident or I can feel he is not confident on the training ground, I have to choose the best XI.” – Aitor Karanka
With this in mind the following selections have been made for this ‘Projected XI’ with the only guaranteed starter being Gaston Ramirez (yet to be priced). He scored seven goals and provided three assists in only 18 starts after arriving on loan from Southampton. He should come in at a cut price of 5.5 and be nailed on for the CAM role. Invest.
Former fantasy hero Stuart Downing (5.5) is in a battle for starting place with Ramirez & Fischer (5.5). He was a signing which nearly saw the manager resign and his impact dwindled throughout last season. Avoid.
Fischer (5.5) brings an interesting skill set to the team. His reliable in front of goal but the level of his physicality and his work ethic is unknown at this level. Important aspects for a wide player. Monitor.
Christhian Stuani (5.0) & Albert Adomah (5.5) are set to battle it out for the role on the right. Stuani is categorized as a forward unfortunately whilst Adomah can be impressive but inconsistent. Avoid both in the battle for this position.
Negredo (6.5) brings a touch of class in a body ravaged by injuries. The manager has spoken out about the strikers lack of fitness throughout the pre season stating him as “not 100%” he went on to add that “If he was at 100% he would be at a Man City, Liverpool or Chelsea, this is the situation we deal with not at 100%.” His impact may be limited and the club has taken a significant risk in securing his signature. At 30 years of age with a couple of poor seasons behind him the nature of the deal (a loan) suggests they know the risk they are taking. Monitor.
His challenger for the striking role is Jordan Rhodes (6.0) who has been biding his time in the Championship for a number of years. He has a goal ratio better then one-in-two over his career whilst approaching peak performance at 26 years of age. Having conducted some study into Rhodes goals for Middlesborough & Blackburn over the last two seasons he is extremely dangerous from corners and set pieces. Not only is he a strong header of the ball but his ability to follow up knock downs from team mates and opponents is superb. He is a poacher with all of his goals coming from within the 18 yards over the last two seasons. His ability in the air may have been excellent at Championship level but the PL has a number of exceptional defenders who will be tougher to beat. Monitor.
With the number of minutes likely to be shared between these two strikers I would avoid starting the season with either. You want to be looking for nailed on performers. The attacking rotation habits of the manager and fitness levels of Negredo make it difficult to recommend you start with either forward in your squad of 15.