Middlesbrough's season so far: A promising start but the best times are yet to come
(Picture from the Gazette)

Middlesbrough's season so far: A promising start but the best times are yet to come

Aitor Karanka have taken five points from their first three games ahead of this weekend's international break.

Joe Nicholson

When the Premier League fixture list was released back in June it was clear that Middlesbrough’s opening four fixtures provided a real opportunity to rack up some early points.

Three games in and Aitor Karanka’s side have done exactly that. They have picked up an admirable five points out of a possible nine and are still unbeaten ahead this weekend’s international break.

Yes, without being disrespectful, they have only played Stoke, Sunderland and West Brom rather than the likes Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, even so it’s still been an encouraging start for the Teessiders.

Following their promotion from the Championship, there was always going to be a degree of uncertainty about how Boro would fare on their return to the top flight.

Yet, so far, Karanka’s side have competed with three teams who were all in the Premier League last campaign and haven’t lost to one of them.

There are still 35 games to go of course, but from that standpoint the opening fixtures have been a big success.

Karanka's tactics have worked well so far

Karanka’s tactics, which sees him deploy a well-organized 4-2-3-1 formation, appear to suit the Premier League and it doesn’t look like Boro will be leaking too many goals this campaign.

That may change when the league’s heavy hitters come to town, but for now Boro have done a decent job of dealing with the teams which are likely to be in and around them.

As a spectacle their goalless draw away at West Brom was a drab affair at best, however they are the kind of points which should help Boro stay away from the relegation zone over the course of the campaign.

A point away from home is never a bad one, especially in the Premier League, and Boro have shown that they have the capability to dig out results though good defending and hard work.

The service up to Alvaro Negredo may have been poor on Sunday, and that will no doubt need to improve over the course of the season. However, the building blocks appear to be in place and that bodes well for the future.

Cristhian Stuani celebrates his opening goal agianst Sunderland (Picture from Sky Sports)
Cristhian Stuani celebrates his opening goal against Sunderland (Picture from Sky Sports)

New signings have shone but others have stepped up too

Most of the new signings, of which Boro have made nine this summer, appear to have settled in well, most notably Negredo and Gaston Ramirez who appear to be forming a promising partnership upfront.  

Antonio Barragan is another new recruit who has caught the eye since his arrival. The Spanish defender has been repeatedly moved across the back four but has performed well wherever he has been asked to play.

But perhaps the best performances have come from those who were already at the club, with George Friend, Daniel Ayala, Ben Gibson and Adam Forshaw all being rewarded with new contracts.

Forshaw in particular has been a revelation in midfield and has taken his opportunity with both hands, following injuries to Grant Leadbitter and new signing Marten De Roon.

The 24-year-old midfielder was fantastic alongside Clayton against Sunderland and West Brom, and on both occasions the pair did an outstanding job of protecting Boro’s back line.

Forshaw has also shown that he has a keen eye for a forward pass, and his through ball to Negredo helped set up Boro’s second goal away at Sunderland.

Sunderland victory gave belief

That victory has certainly given Boro plenty of belief in the first month of the campaign, with Cristhian Stuani’s double providing momentum.

The Uruguayan forward was another who was rotated in and out of the side in the Championship last season, however his stunning long range strike at the Stadium of Light has given everyone on Teesside a massive lift.

It wasn’t all plain sailing though, and Boro’s memorable victory on Wearside could have easily been snatched away from them if Sunderland had converted one of their late chances.

Like they did against Stoke at the Riverside on the opening day, Boro sat back in the second half and invited pressure as they tried to hang on to their lead.

In the Championship that proved to be a successful formula, however the Premier League is less forgiving- as Boro found out when Xherdan Shaqiri’s free kick earned Stoke a 1-1 draw.

The international break should give Boro time to deal with some of their injury issues ahead of their game with Crystal Palace in two weeks’ time.

The likes of Friend, De Roon and Victor Valdes will all hope to return and try to build on Boro’s promising start.