Pick And Mix: Select From Boro’s Slimline Squad

PROJECT Emnes didn’t report to Rockliffe as Aitor’s Avengers Assembled this week. The occasional Dreadlocked Dyamite is believed to be holed up in a plush South Wales hotel smiling enigmatically with his headphones on waiting for his £1.5m move to Swansea to finally be rubber-stamped.

Albert Adomah is on extended leave after smiling his way nervously through a simmering squad revolt in Ghana’s chaotic World Cup campaign and the walking wounded Rhys Williams and Muzzy Carayol were doing light work in the gym while mooted Spanish righ-back Juanfran declined after getting cold feet and  about of pre-emptive homesickness.

But the rest were there, even if reluctantly: in demand Lukas Jutkiewitz was jogging around the departures lounge with one eye on the door while Kei Kamara – suffering from a cold shoulder after his tweet of the moment viral gaffe – was in the tropical disease isolation ward doing selfies while wearing his comedy mosquito onesie.

But after the clutch of loanees went back -including first team fixtures Kenneth Omeruo, Jozsef Varga and Danny Graham – and a host of fringe figures like Frasier Richardson and Faris Haroun (or “Harris Faroon” on the late night FLS highlights shows) it leaves Karanka and Higgy to work with a slim-line squad and eager youngsters.

The players who trained on day one were: Jason Steele, George Friend, Grant Leadbitter, Lukas Jutkiewicz, Christian Burgess, Emmanuel Ledesma, Luke Williams, Seb Hines, Andy Halliday, Dean Whitehead, Ben Gibson, Curtis Main, Richard Smallwood, Jonathan Woodgate, Jacob Butterfield, Dimi Konstantopoulos, Adam Reach, Dani Ayala, Kei Kamara, Lee Tomlin, Bryn Morris, David Atkinson, Mark Kitching, Ryan Brobbel, Bradley Fewster, Tomas Mejias, Charlie Wyke.

That doesn’t leave a lot to work with. If you had to pick a team now where would you start? I know you don’t have to. It is five weeks until the first game and eight until the end of the transfer window closes. It is less than 24 hours since it opened and STILL NO ONE HAS SIGNED! Come on Boro, get your fingers out! Its a disaster. We’re doooomed.

Just for fun though and without prejudice – no personal liability will be foisted on you in May – let’s try and pick a team from the mixed back we’ve got right now. Here’s mine:

With a World Cup 352 flourish

With no right-back (unless Rhys is going to play on crutches) we have a problem.  Woody has played there for Stoke but hasn’t got the legs now to overlap. And Albert has played there but has a tendency to go walkabout. And David Atkinson is a right-back but would  you go for a kid to start the season? No. Not for me.

So why not get with the Samba beat and try out the World Cup vogue of 3-5-2. If its good enough for Chile…  so three at the back and five across the middle with George on one side and Albert on the other.  Leads as the holding midfielder with Butterfield and Smallwood (energy to get across and cover for Albert when he pushes forward) in the middle. Up front I’ve gone for Jutkiewicz. He may lack a bit of mobility but hopefully with a bit of width we can get crosses into the box for him. Tomlin playing just behind off him.

Subs? Dimi,  Ayala, Ledesma, Morris, Reach, Luke Williams, Kamara.

Not great admittedly. That team isn’t going to win the Championship. But it will do for the friendlies. And remember, that isn’t the team that will carry us to Wembley glory. Don’t demand the manager’s head  on the basis of that back of a beermat line-up. We’ll have five new players in by  the big-kick-off. Who would you go for?


45 thoughts on “Pick And Mix: Select From Boro’s Slimline Squad

  1. I ve submitted mine – with the link http://lineupbuilder.com/?sk=3d77

    We are struggling for players the squad depth is the thinnest we have had in a long time. The manager knows this and will look to add for sure. I think by playing juke and tomlin upfront we lack a lot of pace at times to stretch the opposing teams defence.

    I’ve gone for them but have Ledesma along side to create a killer through ball, with Friend and Albert either side to supply crosses for Juke. Ive gone for Smallwood holding and Leadbitter can sit as well which gives Butterfield a forward thinking role in midfield.

    I ve put as well Gibson and Ayala first choice with Steele in goal. It would leak a few goals for sure but we might score a few as well

  2. I thought Hines and L.Williams where out of contract ,and so free agents?

    **AV writes: I think the club exercised 12 month options. See also R Smallwood, A Reach.

  3. If the window opens tomorrow, we should see a right back climbing in. When Emnes has climbed out, there is room for Danny Graham to climb in.

    Also Juke might go – if so I expect another striker to be signed. We need two good strikers for a sustained promotion push. But would be happy with Juke and Graham, too.

    We don’t need too big adjustments, though. And no need to sell any players anymore – remember the trouble Mogga had for the two first seasons.

    AV, you had Steele in goal, right? Up the Boro!

  4. http://lineupbuilder.com/?sk=3d8q

    I was always a fan of bonkers line ups, and our current line-up demands either some stubborn square-pegging or some dramatic formation ideas.

    I’ve taken my lead from an Australian team I have a bit of a penchant for, in one of their more successful spells. With a squad containing a dominant, marauding left back, a solid yet unspectacular right back, a quick yet somewhat unrefined right winger, and no real left winger, they tried something a bit different. Starting out with a back four, the left wing back had the freedom to push up and become a left winger when it was possible, the right sided full back dropping in to make a back three, ably protected by a pair of hard-working midfielders. Everyone forward of that though, really had freedom to swap and switch and do what they wanted to cause problems.

    That said, I think it’s far more likely (and better for our chances of winning) if we just acquire a reliable right back and stick with Aitor’s proven formula from last season.

  5. Well, here you all are. There was me playing a game of keepy-up all by myself on the field in Park End, while you lot were having a full blown eleven-a-side in Steweibugs Park with a ref and a sizeable crowd! In fact, I’d still be there being “Billy-no-Mates” if the ref hadn’t let slip that he was off to a new pitch up the road and wasn’t coming back!

    I see that Blackburn have signed a striker and that Derby have lost interest in the Juke due to the price tag. Seeing as he apparently doesn’t fit in, why not get at least something for him instead of waiting for a buyer to turn up in a sellers’ market?

  6. So there you are. There I was playing with just Peasepud but I’ve finally tracked you all down. Was it your round or summat?

  7. Av, that’s certainly not a squad for promotion. No RB, no reliable goal scorer, a lack of incision in MF, no cover at LB and a lack of overall depth to cover absences. That’s more like a recipe for a relegation struggle.

    **AV writes: It might be if there was the remotest chance that it would be the squad Boro will start the season with.

    1. Exactly – so it’s all about who we sign in the next few weeks. They will be the difference between the prognosis with the current players (likely relegation struggle) and any hope of a push for the top six. Gulp! I can’t remember when a summer’s wheeling-dealing had such significance.

  8. The RB position dilemma is solved! I’ve just been watching the Belgium v USA last-16 match, and the USA RB – Yedlin – was absolutely immense! Sign the boy up! Full of energy, full of pace, excellent going forward, not really doing too much defending – he’s a classic Boro full back.

    **AV writes: Yes, and he is currently only earning $80k A YEAR at Seattle Sounders. I think there will be a queue mind.

    1. Buying a player on the strength of their performance in a tournament often leads to disappointment. Apart from the fact that their eye-catching displays inflate their value, there is a big difference between raising your game for a match or two on the world stage and churning our performances week after week in the attrition of the Championship. There is often a good reason why that player is at the lowly level he currently is.

  9. I remember the last time we bought a World Cup Right Back, the Netherlands Michael Reiziger, he of Ajax, AC Milan, Barcelona fame and of course a perma-Crockcliffe.

    Here at last Boro signed a quality International class defender so surely things had to be on the up? Underwhelmed just about summed things up, he never looked fit, always looked confused and deliberated over everything. Be careful what we wish for because we just might get it.

    The thing that strikes a chord with me during this WC is how the “Stars” have failed to shine or at least consistently, only twinkling in sporadic bursts at best. The real Stars have been the sides like the US or Algeria as recent examples who showed some spirit and desire which goes to prove that a lot can be achieved with the correct mindset, desire and dedication and a huge dollop of Team ethic. Lets hope our Summer signings are the embodiment of those simple basics.

    1. I don’t think the Reiziger comparison is valid at all, and as you admit in your last paragraph, the real “stars” have been those from the US or Algeria (such as Yedlin), who have shown a real team ethic and commitment.

      Fact is – he is not an ageing star with an international reputation who would be coming on board to wind down his career or sit and earn a fat cheque. For a player who is paid 80K a year he’s not going to blow a hole in the bank and is exactly the type of player we should be looking at if we’re going for a sort of “moneyball-lite” system of realizing gains on our player developments.

      I take your point about buying based upon WC performances, but the comparison with Reiziger is tenuous at best.

  10. AV writes: So are none of you picking at team then? Are you all happy with my radical tactical switch? Is no-one going to argue for the continuity with 4231? Or to throw the kids in. Are there no old school Strachanovite supremoes ideogically wedded to 442?

    1. I’m surprised you’re going with JS in goal. I thought Dimi had more of a presence last season and won’t he be 3rd choice anyway.

      Mogga shied away from dropping him even though the defence seemed a better unit with Paul Smith and Carl Ikeme when JS was out.

    2. Sorry, AV, I usually play along but I can’t get interested in this one. Several of those players won’t be with us in a couple of months and there will be a few new faces. Why speculate on something that doesn’t matter?

      **AV writes: It was the first day back at training. The squad looked thin. It was just idle musing.

  11. I think we still have plenty of players still available. No more needed but perhaps we can have some better players, though. Still the squad size is too big for Karanka’s liking as he prefers 22 .. 23 players in his squad. See the Tallentire Table of Available Players at Boro: http://www.gazettelive.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/busy-time-ahead-karanka-boro-7356406#.U7PYurkaCFc.twitter

    Here is my squad to challenge AV’s team (4-2-3-1):

    Jutkiewicz (Kamara or a new striker, please)
    Reach (Carayol when fit), Leadbitter (Morris), Smallwood (Whitehead), Adomah (Ledesma)
    Friend (Halliday), Ayala (Gibson), Rhys (Woodgates), Atkinson (and a new RB)
    Steele (Dimi)

    So we need to keep Juke if not sold and another better striker is bought in like Graham. Mogga used to say all opponents feared Juke and there seem to be several takers. But sell only if we can find two new strikers.

    And the right back is an obvious choice where a new face (or two) is needed. I hope Steele is the long term solution for the goalkeeper spot.

    Up the Boro!

    1. I think I forgot one position altogether: We might need to play 11 players like the others.

      So Tomlin (Butterfield).

  12. Regarding team selection, with what we have at the moment I would go with Jarkko’s selection above except I would put Gibson in alongside Ayala as the first choice CB’s and then Butts in instead of Smallwood or Whitehead to give a more attack minded Team. RB “is what it is” as someone used to say.

    I would imagine at least five new faces coming in before September perhaps even more with the likelihood of another two or maybe three going out. That would keep the squad at around the “manageable” quantity that AK seems to prefer to work with.

    I’m not so sure about the Adam Clayton link and if he would add anything additional unless someone is departing from CM, I’m even less sure if its Butts that’s being offered as the makeweight in the deal.

  13. My team to play Birmingham with what we have would be:

    Williams Ayala Gibson Friend
    Leadbitter Butterfield
    Ledesma Tomlin Adomah

  14. This is sooo easy..


    Dimi Konstantopoulos,
    David Atkinson, Ben Gibson, Dani Ayala, George Friend,
    Richard Smallwood, Dean Whitehead, Grant Leadbitter,
    Adam Reach, Kei Kamara, Luke Williams,

    Defenders who can defend, midfielders who can win the ball and frankly just pick the fastest three up front. Feel free to change the front three if you think others are faster.

    Why not play Atkinson? If he’s in the squad he’s there to play. If he’s not good enough to play than get rid of him. He can’t be any more raw than say Coops was – and he had to play on the wrong side.

    1. Just a tweak or two

      Atkinson [completely agree with reasoning], Ayala, Gibson, Friend
      Smallwood Leadbitter
      Adomah Tomlin Reach

  15. Mine would be exactly the same as Ryan’s team. Although might consider Smallwood over Butterfield depending on how he’s performing since being out on loan.

    What it does highlight to me is that we are miles away (at present) from a side that would challenge in the top half of the table. There is an awful lot of hard work to be done on the transfer front.

    Also don’t think Jutkiewicz has ever played well as a lone striker. At Bolton he had Joe Mason upfront alongside him. However we are so striker light I can’t see another option.

    Fingers crossed in a month the dilemma will be who to leave out not who to put in.

    **AV writes: Picking a team now is all hypothetical. Should be some movement in and out over next day or two.

  16. I will stick by oft repeated rule, if you give them a squad number they have to be able to play. If you wont play them move them on.

    AV, I keep asking, will there be a link from the gazette site?

    **AV writes: And I keep saying: “eventually.” Don’t know the timeatble. It’s beyond my control. I’ve had to move quickly. I’m just glad to save the archives, the rest can be tidied up later.

  17. If all fit 4231

    Atkinson Woodgate Ayala Friend
    Leadbitter Whiehead
    Butterfield Tomlin Ledesma

    Solid at the back
    vision in midfield
    pace up front

    One of the concerns I have with Danny Graham is,he works their back line ,but can he beat them for pace over the top

  18. By the way AV,How is young Fewster coming along? I’ve heard he could be one who might break through.

    **AV writes: I Think he has been training with the first team.

  19. There seems to be a few on here that’s favouring Atkinson at RB, but having looked at his profile I’ve got my doubts about his reliability. He seems to have spent a lot of time sending sick notes in to work, so for me he could be another Bates and making a lot of trips to see the Quack. I can’t comment on his ability because I’ve never seen him in action, but we all know how disruptive the back four (three, five?) have been in recent years due to injuries.

  20. I’ve just spent the last two days playing on my own on the Viilareal pitch! I’m still not too sure how I stumbled on you lot playing on here!

    Good to read that Omerou wants to come back, that’s one key position sorted. As for Juanfran still mulling it over, that doesn’t sound so good. If he is looking for a better offer then it’s time to move on and find someone else.

    As for picking a team from the existing squad, I can’t bring myself to do it. Too depressing, but if I had to choose a team it would play 442 with Smallwood filling in at right back.

  21. Stick with the 4231 for me. We tried a 352 last season to cover Friend’s injury and despite the 1-0 win at Burnley, it didn’t work for us. I think a 433 suits our midfielders better but I don’t think there’s a natural place for Tomlin in that system and he was starting to really look the part by season’s end.

    With either formation I want to see what Steele is like behind our new found defensive solidity. We shouldn’t be afraid to promote youth so I’ll go for Atkinson at RB whilst I see no real alternative for Juke up top.


  22. Just spent 10 minutes looking for the ‘pitch’ again, found it by going to the archive section which seems somewhat counter intuitive , think I need to book myself on a ‘techy anorak’ course.

    **AV writes: Can’t you just save this page to your “favourites”. I think that is what “the kids” do.

  23. Nigel, just ‘right click’ the screen and ‘bookmark’ it. It will then be in your favourites folder (the star icon in the top right hand corner of the screen, unless you’re Mac then it will be on your bookmarks bar at the top of the screen) for easy access later on.

    Free Tech Support mate.

    I bet Villareal’s pitch was better than my field in Park End.

  24. If we don’t pick a rb, can we pick two keepers instead?!

    It’s a funny game football – bite someone for a third time, deny it, get banned – one of the biggest ever, then get a transfer with a pay rise and a £8m signing on fee and don’t forget the double your wages and image rights. What’s wrong with that? Answers on a post card!

    Great news Ken wants another crack at ours as well.

  25. If Omerou is coming back, our defence is as good as ever (last season, that is). When Rhys is fit, he can play at right back as he played there for Australia. And buying “another” right back shouldn’t be a problem. It’s nice to see Karanka has high quality in mind – at least he went for Juanfran. Nice.

    Next, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Danny Graham back anytime soon as Emnes was sold to Swansea yesterday. The project never ended with Marvin and I now wish him all the best. Hopefully the change of environment helps him. As said I hope the money can be used to bring big Danny back.

    If we would sell Juke, too then we need another striker to replace him. Of course we have Kamara but it will be interesting to see if he likes to stay. Or if Karanka wants to keep him! If we would get the £ 800 000 we paid back, I’d sell and reinvest.

    AV, as times are hard financially, do you think Boro can afford both Graham and another striker if Juke is sold for, say £ 1.3 million? Mind, we still need to buy a right back as well bring Omerou and Chalobah (or another) back on loan. Can we afford all this under the Football League Championship’s financial fair play rules.

    But it looks and feel so positive that Karanka is the one to take us up.Be it via play-offs or top two. Up the Boro!

    PS. I like the new site. It works technically so much better. Like Riverside after Ayresome.

  26. 30 post now. A new record for the new platform here. Any party arranged, AV? I presume you pay the travelling to the party, too …

    Only think missing from the site now is a possibility to edit after posting. My foam fingers keep on hitting the wrong keys aal teh tiem, like.

    Up the Boro!

  27. Atkinson at right back?

    Why not, if they are good enough they are old enough. We had the Strachan men, then we had Mogga bringing in prospects and other loanness and leaving our prosepcts to rot in the gulag.

    Gibson had game time so that is perfect but if we have to use one of our own fresh in to the team for a few games I can live with that.

    I dont think it will happen, there is a month before kick off.

    One thing I would say is that the structure of the team is in place. assuming we will be solid our success will depend on the likes of Reach, Adomah, Ledesma, Carayol, Tomlin, Butterfield and whoever is up front.

    Full back and striker are the areas of concern.

  28. PS. Ken coming back would be good news. We know he can play on the right but not the perfect solution.

    Juanfran? Obviously he would prefer Spain, that doesn’t bother me, hope he gets another club nearer home. I wouldn’t want him if he was wasn’t happy here. Looking at the paucity of British players overseas we shouldn’t be too critical if someone prefers to play in their own country

  29. I would find it hard to believe that Karanka would ditch 4-2-3-1 but formations do seem to come and go out of fashion.

    Though AV I wonder if the move for attacking RB/wing-back Juanfran gives your 3-5-2 some credence (with Friend also operating as wing-back)

    It seemed in the World Cup that 4-2-3-1 often left the midfield a bit short in numbers but since we’re in the Championship it may not be such a problem – but I did think a 4-1-2-3 with a single dedicated holding midfielder and two midfielders who had the option to drive into the box could provide a safe more-attacking shape for the three rotating forwards (unless we sign a proper striker of course).

    I’m sure it will all depend on what players we end up with as we’re still missing half of our best XI since the loanees left – though it’s sounding like we may well get Omeruo back.

    Finally, a note for when you get round to tweaking the blog layout: a bit more width for our blog names so they don’t wrap to the next line after nine characters would be nice – until which I’ll insert a space in the middle to avoid being Werdermou.

    **AV writes: I wasn’t aware of that. I’ll see if I can find the button.

  30. Thanks for the ‘tech support’ from AV and Peasepudinperth , I can relax now, gettin all stressed there for a mo!!

  31. Jarkko –

    I’d be happy to see Danny Graham back too, but that would leave us needing another striker. Curtis Main for all his determination and effort doesn’t seem up to it and Kamara was a waste of £800000 in my opinion. I think it would be a miracle if we sold him for that much.

    I dont think Rhys is the answer at RB, he never looked good there, I saw him play his best football for Boro in midfield. If he could recapture his old form he could be an assett in midfield this coming season.

  32. Shows football is a game of opinions. I thought Rhys was woeful in midfield. Never got past the half way line. He played in the midfield got loads of credit but we lost nearly every match. Was the same when we decided bates should be a premiership midfielder. That didn’t work either.

    Midfielders should be the next line of attack after the forwards. Even leadbitter in a defensive midfield role managed to chip in with a few goals and assists.

    Rhys looked a quality centre-back I mean really top drawer till he had that howler at home to Watford. After that he was unrecognisable as a player. I’m sure there’s still ability there but can Karanka get it out. I don’t think it’ll be in midfield though!!

  33. I just preffered Rhys as a right back as we need TWO new players there. One bought and the other could be Rhys. I admit that I have never seen him play there for Autralia, though. But there must be something if he was played there regularly by Australia (or they lacked a born RB, too).

    Up the Boro!

  34. Great new look and feel to the blog….one small gripe, the recent posts would be better further up, say before Blogroll otherwise you can spend more time scrolling all the way past Archives than clicking on the see all comments tab.

    **AV writes: I’ll have a think about the widgets later.

  35. OK, things are quiet so I’ll have a goo at picking a team from the current players while identifing which positions need to be filled strengthened.

    In 4-2-3-1:
    GK: Dimi (Meijas cover);
    CBs: Gibson, Omeruo (assuming he returns), (Ayala, R. Williams)
    FBs: RB NEEDED (R. Williams/Atkinson cover), Friend (COVER NEEDED);
    DMF: Leadbitter, DMF NEEDED, (R. Williams, Smallwoood cover)
    MF: Adomah, Carayol (Butterfield, Ledesma cover)
    AMF/No.10: Tomlin (COVER NEEDED, Ledesma)

    Therefore surplus to requirements: Steele (unless coaches are confident in potential), Hines, Woodgate, Whitehead, Main, Kamara, Jutkiewicz.

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