In November Middlesbrough were in the depths of despair and in the championship relegation zone. Sitting 22nd after losing to bottom placed Coventry, Boro pulled the plug on Chris Wilder’s reign and appointed Michael Carrick as manager.
Upon Carrick’s arrival, the underlying numbers suggested Boro were in a false position. On expected points (xP) Boro should have been 5th but sometimes in football, things just don’t go your way.
So clearly there’s a talented group of players, but how can Carrick turn the expected, into actual points.
Firstly, it was reigniting the group.
In the previous regime, the former boss didn’t want to be at the club following his links to Burnley and Bournemouth and this caused a divide between the staff, the players and the fans.
Carrick and the coaching team were able to put the arm around the players and identify new positions to maximise their abilities i.e. moving Chuba Akpom to a withdrawn striker role / number 10, Riley Margaree to an inverted left midfield role, Marcus Forss to the right hand side and give confidence to academy graduate Hayden Hackney that he could be a pivotal player in Boro’s season.
Secondly, the coaching team adapted the team tactically.
Boro reverted to a back 4, and Carrick gave the team one question to answer – In possession, how can we attack space in the most effective way?
This will see Boro mix up their attacking phases: We can play out from the back and through the thirds, we can play long into the wide areas, we can be patient with the ball or we can be a transition team.
The adaptability has give Middlesbrough the flexibility in achieving their goal of attacking space and enhanced their ability to score goals. Historically, Boro haven’t been a fluid, high scoring team. However, under Carrick, Middlesbrough finished the 46 game season as second top goalscorers with 81 goals – 2 shy of league winners Burnley and over performing their XG by 21 goals.
Defensively, Middlesbrough still remain slightly suspect conceding the second most in the championship top half with 56 goals. Personally, I did not find this as a significant weakness as we tend to outscore the opponent the majority of the time.
On the other hand, if Middlesbrough were to be promoted this is something Carrick and the coaching staff need to address immediately due to the nature of the Premier League.
Middlesbrough’s second half of the season has simply been sensational. Impressive results matched with impressive performances has galvanised the Boro fan base and even highlighted Carrick as a potential replacement for certain Premier League hot seats, plus a tip to be a future Manchester United manager.
It’s worth noting Carrick isn’t the sole conductor in the Middlesbrough orchestra. Coaches Jonathan Woodgate, Aaron Danks, Grant Leadbitter and Head of Football Kieran Scott have been incredibly influential in galvanising this group.
The coaching team have given the players confidence and belief that a mistake is only a blip, a risk is worth taking and enjoying your football is what it’s all about.
Also, the players deserve a tremendous amount of credit for turning round their season. To be one of the biggest under-performers in underlying data to one of the most over performing teams it’s an incredible feat.
As Boro approach the play-off semi-final second leg against Mark Robbins Coventry, there is a mixture of emotions in Teesside. Coventry are one of the best defensive sides in the championship and the 2nd best team in scoring counter attacks (behind Middlesbrough) and have suffered 1 defeat in 18 games.
The bookies have Middlesbrough as favourites to progress, but I’d argue Coventry‘s way of playing will make this an incredibly difficult task and they are the hardest team we probably could have faced.
Boro may get promoted, they may not, but what is certain is the Michael Carrick era and Boro’s future is very bright.