21 years now since Steve Gibson and his band of merry men took charge at the Riverside, and rescued Middlesbrough from a certain death, and for those 21 years since, we’ve been told its the ‘town’s club‘. To some extent it is, we enjoy the triumphs together, we hate the losses together, and we complain about Jason Euell and Michael Ricketts together, but ultimately, it is now Gareth Southgate’s club.
Southgate is the one who chooses the team, Southgate is the one who chooses the formation, Southgate is the one who chooses exactly where the players should be stood at every moment of time. But what if it really was the ‘town’s club‘? Not to the extent of MyFootballClub (which sounds horrendous by the way), but if we had some say in who played, and where, and for how long, and why we should never ever start a game with Lee Dong Gook as the lone striker.
Well, just on the off-chance that someone of importance from Middlesbrough FC will be reading this, I’ll tell you what I’d do, and we can have a good old fashioned argument about exactly why I want us to play like Barcelona.
In the goal, well, theres not a lot I can change. I’d choose Mark Schwarzer, simply because he is our best keeper. With his closest challenger, Brad Jones, currently injured, that only leaves Ross Turnbull. Well, anyway, from all of them, Schwarzer is the only possible choice, but I would be looking to buy a new keeper shortly, possibly in the January window.
In the full-back positions its almost as easy. Andrew Taylor is the only real candidate for left back, while Luke Young seems to be coping at right back. Although I’d keep him there for the near future, I’d like to test Tony McMahon throughout the season. Full fit, he kept Michael Reiziger out the side, and so has obvious quality.
The centre half pairing on the other hand is a whole new problem. Woody is undroppable, and provided he’s fit, Pogatetz must partner him. Missing them two, its a toss-up between Riggott and Huth, while Wheater is snapping at their heels.
The big game against Chelsea will be interesting, with the three main defenders being Riggott, Wheater, and maybe Pogi. Well, Riggott has the match experience and fitness, Wheater has the height to keep Drogba away from headers, while Pogatetz… well he’s just Pogatetz. As it is, I’d be tempted to stick with Riggott and Wheater for the experience and height they offer us against Chelsea, although no doubt Pogatetz will be back in the team before long.
Now to Middlesbrough’s midfield, and here is where I think Southgate has it all wrong. George Boateng is the Middlesbrough captain, so lets actually play him a bit more often. Just sit him right in the middle of midfield. Sitting deep, in a sort of Gilberto role, and just making the tackles, helping the defence, watching the midfield runners, and playing the simple passes. A position that should also suit Cattermole when his chances come.
The wingers are again a shoe-in, Downing on the left, O’Neill on the right, though with the form Adam Johnson’s in, he’ll give us more than a few headaches when he returns from Watford. Other than him though, our only other wingers are youth players, Graeme Owens, Jonathan Franks and Nathan Porritt, all totally untested, and will hopefully remain that way for another season or two.
Sitting ahead of Boateng, I want two attacking midfielders. ‘In the hole’ its usually referred to by pundits, except that now there’ll be two of them. Sanli Tuncay with a bit of luck, alongside Rochemback. Tuncay has failed to fulfil his attacking potential so far while he’s been played out of position, while this should also give Rochemback the perfect opportunity to do what he loves best and attack. Its a role that should also suit Arca when he returns from injury, giving us the rotation option.
Leaving just a lone striker, the strength of Mido would have to do. It seems a role that Dong Gook, Aliadiere, Craddock or Hutchinson would struggle to fill without help from those attacking midfielders, unless we can mastermind something using their pace. With Craddock and Hutchinson seeming opportunist strikers, they could do better in one of those positions just behind the striker, looking for balls to latch on to.
Although its a formation that could signal the end of Dong Gook’s Middlesbrough career, thats a chance I’m more than willing to take given his current form, while Aliadiere could surely adapt to that – needing more to chase a ball down and feed the other attackers, or take a shot himself. Indeed, I’m sure I saw him manage it at Arsenal in one of those infamous cup matches against Liverpool.
To me, this seems to offer the Middlesbrough players a chance to do what they do best. The solid back four should do what they used to, and now with captain Boateng protecting them and leading the team, we might be able to shore up our leaky defence. The attacking flair of the wingers now have three attackers to service, while our attacking midfielders should really get a chance to shine in their favoured position without having to worry so much about tracking back.
And the greatest thing about this formation for Middlesbrough’s game against Chelsea? They really won’t be expecting it. Suddenly coming up against a Barcelona-esque three-pronged strike force could really rattle Chelsea’s defence, maybe giving us a shot at a third successive win against Chelsea at the Riverside.
Lets hope ‘eh?