I have to admit, I have absolutely loved playing this save. It has made me wonder why it has taken me so long to pick up and play a save with Middlesbrough, but I guess I may find that out down the line, somehow. I have enjoyed a number of saves this year and my success has ranged, but I do think this is easily the most enjoyable save I’ve had and we’re only 23 games in!
In my previous update, I set out a blueprint of things to do. This included the system I aimed to implement, areas where I wanted to improve prior to the season opener against Wolves and the aims of the season overall. The first thing I did was look through the squad and aim to get as many of the young players out on loan as I could.
I successfully managed this as twelve young players were loaned out to a host of clubs, with the majority plying their trade in either the Vanarama National League or the National North, the division below. It’s important that they gain first-team football, rather than play at a youth level because there is a vast difference. Whilst many won’t ever make it into the first-team, there could be a gem in there.
So, without further ado let’s discuss the transfers we made.
Up The Boro!
I brought in three signings during the Summer window, as we spent just under £4,000,000 overall.
Firstly, we brought in right-back Ivan from Spanish side Levante for £1,400,000. I discussed that I felt the right-back position was somewhere we needed to strengthen and so I wasted little time in finding a suitable option. The 24-year-old has experience having played in La Liga for the club, but also has the space to improve and therefore appeals to me as an upgrade on Ryan Shotton.
I also discussed how we want to look towards the future with the club. Ezri Konsa is a perfect example of doing this, as we signed the Charlton central defender for £450,000. Also part of the deal was for the club to loan him back until the end-of-the-season, which we obliged to.
He certainly has the ability to grow as a player and for a fee such as this, it seems we could have pulled off a real bargain if he performs to expectations. As I write this update, he is enjoying a successful loan spell with his former club having played 22 times, as Charlton push for the playoff places.
Our final arrival came on Deadline Day, as we looked to bring competition to the left-side for Stewart Downing. Signing for £1,700,000, we brought in Spanish midfielder Fidel from Spanish second division side Almeria. Perhaps we’d have liked to bring in a perhaps younger option to rival Downing, however Fidel was a viable option.
Again, he has experience in La Liga having played with Cordoba on loan in the 2014/15 season, but the winger has mainly played in the second tier. I felt that the signing was important because previously Downing had little competition on that side of the midfield, other than Jack Harrison, on loan from Manchester City.
There were no major departures in the playing squad, however there were one in the non-playing staff. My assistant manager David Kemp retired and therefore I was forced to find a replacement a week prior to the season opener. In came the experienced Terry Burton, who had most recently been involved at West Brom after a spell at Arsenal as the manager of the reserve side.
I also improved the physio team as Andy Renshaw and Luke Anthony both joined the club. The pair both have fantastic attributes and have significantly improved that field. Eddie Niedzwiecki joined as an all-round coach, as his stats are well-rounded and therefore make the Welshman capable of handling most tasks. Finally, Serbian Miodrag Krivokapic joined as a fitness coach after recently leaving Celtic after a nine-year stint.
Good signs from pre-season
We enjoyed a very successful pre-season prior to the season also. The only disappointment was the 2-0 loss against Czech giants Sparta Prague (or Praha, as they’re known here). The stand out result was obviously the 1-0 victory over Premier League side Watford, which was followed up by wins against lower-league opposition heading into the Championship season; which put the squad in great spirits.
So, how have we begun in our return to the Sky Bet Championship?
The English Championship 2017/18
The answer is incredibly well! Somehow, we have managed to go half the season unbeaten which is an incredible feat in such a difficult league as the Championship. It was essential we got the season off on the right foot, which we did in style with a 3-0 win over big spenders Wolves. We have gone on to play some terrific football (at times) and enjoy some great results.
We have drawn a lot of games however, we have the joint most draws within the division alongside third-place Reading. Whilst we have managed to snatch a point from what seems like an inevitable loss at times in many games, with the likes of Daniel Ayala, Britt Assombalonga and even Adam Clayton being the hero, we also have squandered many.
It seems like we cannot grind out a result which is rather disappointing. This is something we have to address in the second half of the season if we want to maintain our fantastic record and position in the league. I certainly don’t believe we can keep this unbeaten run going for the rest of the season as a number of times it’s been hanging in the balance.
This is especially the case recently and therefore I think it’s a matter of time before we are handed our first loss. When this does occur, I am keen to ensure the players heads do not drop, as morale is a major part to the mechanics of this game and therefore we have to ensure that we don’t let this happen. As soon as the players lose their morale, the results begin to go against you and it’s difficult to get back up that proverbial slippery slope created.
Our Carabao Cup venture was also a disappointment. We struggled to overcome League One Doncaster Rovers in the second round, however Britt Assombalonga bagged a late brace to add to his earlier goal to send us through. After this we faced Premier League side Huddersfield in which we were dumped out after a 1-0 defeat. Grant Leadbitter, who had been complaining of a lack of first-team football, came on to miss a penalty also.
We are currently six points clear of our closest rivals Fulham, after Neil Warnock’s Cardiff have slipped off in recent games. Our expectations were to essentially win promotion back to the Premier League and this is a real possibility at the moment. We just have to ensure we do our part and continue on our fantastic start to the season.
Many teams that were expected to be in and around the top two have really disappointed. Wolves spent a large amount of money on their squad and to see them floundering in mid-table is a real surprise. Sheffield Wednesday are also down there, whilst Aston Villa and Sunderland have also been less than impressive. However, the former are improving having brought in Karl Robinson after the sacking of Steve Bruce.
We have a number of players to thank for their contributions so far this year, but none more so than striker Britt Assombalonga and Adama Traore.
Britt currently has 13 goals to his name, which sees him as the fourth top goalscorer within the division, behind Sean Maguire, Aleksander Mitrovic and Kenneth Zohore. The Congolese star also made his international debut and now has two caps to his name. He has fought off competition from Patrick Bamford for the number 9 role. Rudy Gestede sustained an injury in August which rules him out until February.
The former Barcelona B star Adama Traore leads the way in two fields; the most assists (10) within the division and also in the highest average rating chart. This is no surprise as the winger has used his speed to cause nightmares to defenders and has also shown his abilities in front of goal, scoring seven goals in 22 appearances.
The squad has been united in its efforts this season, however there is one exception. Fabio grew upset that he was being kept out of the side by George Friend and demanded first-team football, which I was unwilling to give him over the impressive Friend. Therefore he has been sat in the reserves due to his poor behaviour and has been attracting offers from Mexico.
The offers received were far below what I were willing to accept and therefore I rejected them. Fabio has since agreed that a deal of £4,000,000, which is double the fee paid to Cardiff in 2016, is an acceptable fee to retain his services and allow him to leave the Riverside. I am hoping that he will be off the books in January so we can look to bring in more young players and improve the squad.
Fabio aside, we are looking to be full of confidence as we sit comfortably at the top of the table, still with our unbeaten record intact. Can we keep this up and win promotion to the top flight as champions? I guess you’ll have to find out in the next post.
I want to thank you for reading and hopefully you will continue to enjoy the many posts I will be writing during this save. Please follow @_BoroLiam on Twitter if you wish to remain updated.
Do leave some comments below if you have any thoughts about this new save with Middlesbrough. Have you managed the club before on FM18? Leave a comment to let us know how you got on!
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