The Stuani Mystery: Can the Uruguayan become a regular starter for Middlesbrough?

Since his arrival on Teesside, Stuani has struggled to nail down a spot in Aitor Karanka's starting eleven. A brace on Wearside will have helped his cause, but can the Uruguayan become a Boro starter?

The Stuani Mystery: Can the Uruguayan become a regular starter for Middlesbrough?
Cristhian Stuani celebrates scoring his first Premier League goal against Sunderland | Photo: Sky Sports

Cristhian Stuani was rather an unknown entity when he arrived on Teesside, but the six week long transfer saga which led to him eventually signing for Middlesbrough gave fans time to do their research.

There was also a sense of expectation on Stuani's shoulders. 17 goal striker Patrick Bamford had just refused to spend a second season on loan on Teesside and head coach Aitor Karanka was looking for a replacement.

It became apparent only a short amount of time into his Middlesbrough career that Karanka did not think of Stuani to be the man to score the goals required to take them up (the irony of this being that he scored the goal against Brighton which sent Boro up).

A successful start to the season

Stuani made his debut for Middlesbrough on the opening day of the Championship season, replacing Kike Garcia in a goalless draw with Preston North End

Starting his first Boro game in the Capital One Cup, Stuani notched a brace against Oldham Athletic, followed by another cup double against Burton Albion.

By the game against Burton Albion, however, it was clear that Karanka saw Stuani more as a wide player than a striker.

Playing him as a wideman appealed to Karanka more, as he could use Albert Adomah on the left and have Stuani as a presence at the back post - seen best with his goal against Ipswich in December.

By the time the September international break came around, Stuani had notched 7 goals in all competitions. It seemed Boro's system was working for them.

An untimely injury and poor form raise questions.

When Stuani returned from international duty, it broke that he had picked up a double tear in his hamstring and groin. He would, therefore, miss 5 weeks of Boro's season.

Middlesbrough won three of the five games Stuani missed with injury, losing the other two. Stuani's form didn't seem to be too affected by the time on the sidelines, as he went on to score three goals in Boro's next seven games leading up to the end of 2015.

Stuani scores Boro's only goal in a draw with Brighton which saw Middlesbrough promoted | Photo: Getty
Stuani scores Boro's only goal in a draw with Brighton which saw Middlesbrough promoted | Photo: Getty

It wasn't just Stuani who ended the calendar year well, as Middlesbrough sat in first place in the Championship as people were welcoming 2016 into their homes. It was the months after where the former Espanyol player would come under scrutiny.

A goal drought which lasted from the first game of 2016 to the last match of the season really put Cristhian Stuani's place in Boro's team under the spotlight.

The arrival of fellow countryman Gaston Ramirez did little to aid Stuani's cause, as Ramirez's talents showed making it nearly impossible for Karanka to drop him. Adomah's pace and skill almost guaranteed his starting place and Stewart Downing who, like Ramirez, had dropped down from the Premier League to play for Boro.

When Stuani did play in the second half of the season, however, Boro seemed to lose a certain balance which had been brought to the team by playing Adomah and Downing wide.

Does Stuani fit into Boro's style of play?

What Stuani brought to Middlesbrough's table in terms of aerial ability, he took away the pace that Adomah and even Downing had. When played, it also became apparent that Stuani did not have the defensive awareness that Adomah possessed. Aitor Karanka wants his players to work forward and backwards, and with all his years as a frontman, Stuani does not have the greatest defensive awareness.

To all intents and purposes, Cristhian Stuani does not fit into Boro's style of play. This could be why he has struggled to nail down a starting spot. All this said, however, Stuani showed away at Sunderland that he has quality that he can bring to Karanka's side.

A 30-yard thunderbolt sent the Teesside faithful into hysteria just 13 minutes into the derby. If the Uruguayan can keep up that level of performance then he will surely be playing more games than he did in the Championship last year.