Competition for places is often construed as beneficial when building a squad fighting for promotion. But, with Adam Clayton, Jonny Howson, Mo Besic, George Saville, Grant Leadbitter, Paddy McNair and Lewis Wing all on Boro’s books – are there too many central midfielders battling for too few places in the starting line-up?
Each will play a part this season, especially when you take into account injuries, suspensions and squad rotation, but when all are fit who makes it into Tony Pulis’ three-man midfield? They all make a convincing argument.
Boro’s Mr Consistent throughout the last four seasons. Clayton signed from Huddersfield in 2014 in a swap deal involving Jacob Butterfield. Since then he’s racked up 156 appearances for the club scoring his only goal away at his former side in a 2-0 win during Boro’s promotion year.
A solid defensive midfielder whose strengths include successful passes and regaining possession, Clayton is one of the first names on Pulis’ team sheet. A fan favourite who does the basics well and also enjoys a crunching tackle, Clayton will certainly make it into Boro’s midfield three more times than he’ll miss out.
Likelihood of starting: 9/10
Brought in by Monk last summer for £6m, Howson initially struggled to replicate his previous form and was subject to early criticism from the Boro faithful for his performances. However, since Pulis’ arrival in December, the former Norwich man has shown his pedigree as one of the best box-to-box players in the division. His ability to hold onto the ball in tight areas, while also being able to play that defence-splitting pass means that now he simply cannot be dropped.
The new arrivals of McNair, Saville and Besic provide healthy competition for Howson but all of them are realistically battling for the final slot in Boro’s midfield. Howson’s impressive displays in the early part of this season have seen him firmly cement a place in the side and now it’s up to the new arrivals to try and take his spot.
Likelihood of starting: 8/10
Every fan loves a passionate hot-head who wears the shirt with pride and that’s exactly what Boro have in the shape of Mo Besic. The Bosnian first joined the club in January on an initial six-month loan deal. After a hugely successful spell, Boro were keen for Besic to join the club permanently, but a deal could not be struck. After a will he won’t he saga in the loan window, Besic has finally arrived back on Teesside on a one-year loan from parent club Everton.
A tough-tackling midfielder who can also glide past defenders, a fully fit Mo Besic could be the difference for Boro in achieving promotion this season. After regaining his match fitness towards the end of last season, Besic will be hoping he can push on in this campaign and make an even more of an impact than he made last time out.
Likelihood of starting: 7/10
The latest recruit in Boro’s midfield options is one that we don’t know too much about. He was Millwall’s joint top scorer with 10 goals last season and he also managed one assist. Therefore, we can infer that he’s a midfielder whose clinical in front of goal – an attribute that will no doubt come in handy for Boro at some point in the season.
Millwall scored four times in the opening minute last season, with Saville two of them. If Boro want to accumulate as many points as possible this season they’ll need to be at it from the off – Saville may just be the man to help them do that. A midfielder who can score goals is something Boro have lacked in previous seasons, let’s just hope we don’t ruin another goal scorer as we seem to have done in previous years.
Likelihood of starting: 7/10
Boro’s captain found his playing time restricted towards the end of last season and many thought that he would be off in the summer, probably to boyhood club Sunderland just up the A19. Yet, that was not the case. A key man in the dressing room and an ever-faithful servant to the club, his best years may be behind him, but you can always rely on Leadbitter to give his all every time his puts on the shirt.
The midfield general of Boro’s promotion-winning side may have fallen down a few ranks since then, but his ability to perform in the Championship is undeniable. Still capable of playing a 50-yard Hollywood ball, Leadbitter may be used as a bit-part player this season, but his contribution off the pitch will be just as valuable as ever.
Likelihood of starting: 5/10
Boro’s first signing of the summer for £5m seemed a fair price for the former Man United academy graduate. A central midfielder who made a real impression on Wearside, with the Sunderland Echo even wanting McNair to be given the captaincy in order to keep him at the club.
The Northern Ireland international ended last season on fire, scoring four goals in the last six fixtures and the feeling up the road is that if McNair had been fit for the entirety of the season, they wouldn’t currently be playing third tier football. A versatile player who is also comfortable at right-back and centre-back, McNair might have to use his adaptability to his advantage if he wants a regular place in Boro’s starting 11.
Likelihood of starting: 6/10
Still the only Boro player to register two assists this season, Lewis Wing has been thrown in at the deep end this season but has never looked out of his depth. With Boro 2-0 down away at Millwall a defeat looked on the cards on the opening day of the season. On came Lewis Wing for his Championship debut and 34 minutes later, Boro had salvaged a draw with the player they’d signed from Shildon only a year ago assisting the equaliser.
He started the following three matches against Sheffield United, Birmingham and Bristol City but found himself unlucky to be dropped for the top of the table clash away at Elland Road. He also didn’t feature in the defeat at Carrow Road last weekend. With Boro unable to find the back of the net in his absence, could it be time for Lewis Wing to return to the first-team picture?
Likelihood of starting: 6/10
Picture Credit: Middlesbrough FC