Middlesbrough are back in the Premier League for the first time since the 2008-09 season, hoping to become “the next Southampton” — going from newly promoted side, to three-time top-eight finisher all in the span of four seasons.
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Boro have certainly splashed the cash like a club with big-time intentions, having already acquired nine new first-team players who are all likely to be counted on for key contributions this season. While only three of the seven required transfer fees (two of the three are 25 years old or younger), the four freebies and two loanees will have on their own added close to $200,000 to the club’s weekly wage bill. If they’re going to give you all that money for playing in the Premier League, you might as well spend it and go all out for survival.
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Boro will finish mid-table and establish themselves as a PL side, because… They’ve got a clear identity under manager Aitor Karanka — defensive discipline, which has translated to the best defensive record in the Championship for two years running.
Boro will spend all season fighting relegation, all for naught, because… They have very little PL experience in a squad made up of mostly career-long Championship players. The summer signings are nice, but not enough.
Best Possible XI
—– Valdes —–
— Barragan — Espinosa — Ayala — Friend —
—– Leadbitter — De Roon ——
— Stuani — Ramirez — Fischer —
—– Negredo —–
Transfers in: Victor Valdes (free, Manchester United), Brad Guzan (free, Aston Villa), Marten De Roon ($16 million, Atalanta), Gaston Ramirez (free, Hull City), Viktor Fisher ($5 million, Ajax), Antonio Barragan ($4 million, Valencia), Bernardo Espinosa (free, Sporting Gijon)
Transfers out: Rhys Williams (free, Perth Glory), Jonathan Woodgate (released),
Last season: Clinched automatic promotion through a second-place finish in the Championship (89 points, four back of winners Burnley); finished the season on a 10-game unbeaten run (six wins, followed by four draws, which saw them fall off the top spot on the final day of the season).
Star player: Alvaro Negredo — Boro have a handful of capable strikers within their squad (Jordan Rhodes, Christhian Stuani and David Nugent), but none will be relied upon as heavily as Negredo, who arrived on loan from Valencia just 12 months after securing his exit from Manchester City. The 30-year-old Spaniard is only 24 months removed from a 2013-14 campaign that saw him score 23 goals in 48 appearances (all competitions) in his lone season with the Citizens.
Coach’s corner: Karanka is set to embark on his third full season in charge at Boro (hired in November of 2013), a tenure that’s seen steady improvement year after year at the Riverside Stadium (12th in the Championship in 2013-14; 4th in 14-15; 2nd in 2015-16). Just 42 years old, Boro is Karanka’s first head job after three seasons spent as an assistant under Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid.
PST predicts: It’s tough to find three sides, at least on paper, that are “worse” than Boro. The massive hike in television money aids newly promoted sides as they attempt to build a squad to fight against relegation. Here’s the problem: every other club in the PL gets the same money, and has been spending comparable cash for years. If they manage to avoid relegation, it’ll be ever so slightly.