So where to begin? 30 league games resulting in four wins seems like a good place. That is Middlesbrough’s current record, that is main reason why you have to consider the future of their head coach Aitor Karanka.
They are just above the drop-zone in 16th place, one point adrift of the bottom three, indeed just one point off second from bottom Hull City.
Boro’s latest capitulation was a hard one to take as it came at the hands of Sam Allardyce’s beleaguered Crystal Palace – victory would not only have given Middlesbrough their first win since mid-December, but would have surely been a nail in the coffin of their opponents relegation hopes.
Now Palace are level with Boro and they have something to build on, something to latch onto.
And that is the thing with Boro under Karanka. They are the worst team to watch in the Premier League – they are dull, unadventurous and negative beyond good reason.
When promoted Boro, were always built on a solid defence with just one up-front, but a big difference was they always played a number 10 and they started the season off playing in the same manner. They did stray away from this to add an extra centre midfielder and take the floating number 10 away – and this had great results at both Arsenal and Manchester City, two brilliant draws, which the style was tailored too.
However, since November – Karanka has adopted this system as his go to plan – which has seen Gaston Ramirez forced to the left, a role which has since seen him so despondent about, that he put in a transfer request in January.
📊 The No.10 position generates the most goals and assists in the Premier League. A position Boro have discarded recently…. pic.twitter.com/jZv6F7dOtl
— BoroStats (@boroform) February 26, 2017
But this new system – which is basically three holding midfielders in front of a back four, does make it hard for the opposition to score, but in equal measure it makes Boro so negative. We are about to go into March and they have more points than goals. They have yet to hit the 20-goal mark and that is despite having Spanish international Alvaro Negredo leading the line, but the lack of service he gets is bordering on criminal.
So, what is to blame for Boro’s plight? Well we know it is Aitor Karanka – although you would not think that listening to him. From blaming the fans who chanted ‘attack, attack, attack’ in the home defeat to West Ham – to blaming the club’s lack of recruitment in January.
Now Middlesbrough Football Club are not perfect, far from it – but the two things you can’t criticise are the fans and the chairman Sir Steve Gibson – yes it is not officially Sir yet but that is a mere oversight from the Queen, which she will surely put right sooner rather than later.
The blame is Karanka’s. He has a squad which is not amongst the three worst in the Premier League. You have a budget more on par with a top-ten team with well over half-a-dozen players on over 50k-a-week – which in itself guarantees nothing but shows the club have put their money where their mouth is.
Karanka refuses, cast iron like, to change his system – he will not play two strikers under any circumstances, which means Boro are restricted when they come to chasing a game which is more often than not.
We are going into March – and yet Middlesbrough don’t know their best XI – he doesn’t appear to trust his team. Just look at their most dynamic attacking threat Adama Traore, yes raw but full of talent and a frightening proposition – but Karanka swaps him every half, why? Because he feels he needs talking through each game. A Premier League player, who was raised at Barcelona? Come on, give us a break.
After the most recent defeat to Palace, he questioned the attitude of the players – blaming the first half on their lack of commitment.
“I thought the team knew how important this game was, but the first half told me we didn’t realise that.”
The simple fact is, Middlesbrough will be relegated if nothing changes. Only one team has scored less than Boro in England’s top seven divisions – Margate, who are bottom of National League South.
Time for action
So what to do, this is not the first time Boro have been in this position and therefore not Steve Gibson either. What has he done in the previous situations? Lets look.
Back in 2000 with Boro been dragged into trouble under Bryan Robson – after a plea for help Gibson persuaded Terry Venables to come in, and he guided the club to safety.
Fast forward to 2009 – Gibson refused to act when calls were being made to replace Gareth Southgate. He stayed loyal, but relegation followed.
Changing manager does not guarantee staying up, but at Middlesbrough you would guarantee a change of style and philosophy, which surely would only be seen as a positive.
Gibson needs to look around the league, that is the real danger for Boro – rivals like Swansea and Hull, two teams who Boro looked certain to finish above, are flying with their respective new bosses in Paul Clement and Marco Silva. Palace changed to Allardyce and having spent millions in January are now turning it around, thanks to the win over Boro, and what could happen to Leicester in the wake of Ranieri’s sacking?
Yes Karanka got Boro promoted, but they limped over the line – they did that in-spite of having the biggest budget in the division – money was thrown at the promotion bid and it came off – just. But the Spaniard did nothing Boro haven’t done before, far from it – this is a club who have been in a European final in the last 20 years. Karanka has not delivered anything this club has not seen before, or will see again – lets get that right.
Boro’s failure to not take a home win in January – despite having Leicester, West Ham and West Brom visit would surely have set the alarm bells ringing, and defeat to Palace would have seen the levels raised from Defcon 2 to Defcon 1 especially if you look at their run-in, their last four games are against Man City, Chelsea, Southampton and Liverpool.
Will Karanka change his style? Very unlikely, and if that is the answer, I think Gibson has his answer on whether he can keep the club in the league, and in-turn has his answer on whether to keep him.