Friday, July 27, 2007

Premiership Preview--16. Middlesbrough

16. Last season, 16th-12th positions were separated by only 7 points, and I have a feeling that this year, that gap will be just as close, if not smaller. There isn't much separating teams at those spots in the table, and it's almost a crapshoot predicting what teams will finish where.

Middlesbrough should, at 16th, be closer to safety than their place indicates. They're one step above the relegation battle but two or three steps below the teams challenging for the UEFA Cup spots, and to me, that indicates mid-bottom end of the league table. This is a team that finished 12th last year and limped through the home stretch of the Premiership season before winning their last two games. They didn't get much better this summer and with the considerable improvements that the teams who finished under Middlesbrough last year made, it's going to be Gareth Southgate's team near the bottom.

Middlesbrough essentially swapped strikers this offseason, acquiring the younger (but smaller) Tuncay Sanli and letting Mark Viduka, who scored some big goals for the club in his three seasons at the Riverside, go to Newcastle. Sanli comes over from Turkish club Fenerbahce, where he averaged roughly a goal every three games. However, it usually takes at least a season for players who come to England from somewhere else in Europe to adjust to the high level and fast-paced style of game played in the Premier League. Middlesbrough also brought in 24-year old Jeremie Aliadiere from Arsenal to boost their attacking punch and right-back Luke Young from relegated Charlton to help shore up a defensive unit that gave up 15 goals in the last 9 games of 2006-2007 season and also lost Stuart Parnaby and Abel Xavier this summer.

Middlesbrough's schedule can essentially be divided into three parts: Two long, extremely difficult stretches of games against teams expected to finish in, or at the very least challenge for, European places this season, and the rest of the games against mid-lower table sides that Middlesbrough will have to take as many points as they can from. From September 30-December 8, Middlesbrough will play 9 league games. Out of those 9, they'll be favored in just one of them, and even it's no guarantee (an away game at Manchester City). Also in that long stretch are home games with Chelsea, Tottenham, Aston Villa, and Arsenal, as well as road matches at Everton, Manchester United, Bolton, and Reading. As if that run of games wasn't difficult enough, there's also a killer finish to the season. February 23-April 26, a span of 10 league games, sees just one "gimme" (a home game with Derby County). Trips to Liverpool, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Sunderland are also included, as are home dates with Reading, Manchester United, and Bolton. Those two stretches make up 19 games in total, half the total schedule. 57 points are possible from those games but I can't see Middlesbrough getting more than 20, certainly no more than 25. That means Middlesbrough will have to take care of business in their other games to assure themselves of another season in the Premiership.

Bottom Line-Middlesbrough should stay up, though the schedule-makers didn't do them any favors this season. It will be essential for Tuncay Sanli to have a productive season because Middlesbrough don't have a stable of strikers who can put the ball in the net. After Yakubu, the talent level drops to the likes of Jason Euell and Lee Dong-Gook. Ouch.

1 comment:

SoccerShoutPhil said...

I'm pretty bullish about Boro's prospects.

I think we'll have one of the best defences outside of the top 4 - once their all fit.

In fact, my biggest worry is the injuries we've suffered to our centre-backs. We'll be starting out season without our top FIVE picks at that position (Woodgate, Pogatetz, Huth, Riggott and Bates).

It will be interesting to see our shape in midfield, as we have a lot of attacking midfielders and not so many out-and-out strikers. I can see Sanli, Alialdiere, and Downing all raiding from withdrawn positions, with Boateng and Rochemback holding the fort down in front of defence.

That just leaves Yakubu upfront, backed-up up by Lee Dong Gook.

Another big-name striker would go a long way to pushing the Boro further up the league.