KIKE, Jelle Vossen, Patrick Bamford and Lee Tomlin – is there a team in the Championship with a better attacking quartet than Middlesbrough?
It’s hard to think of one, but that won’t count for much unless the club’s forward players are on the field in their preferred position, and for all that this summer’s transfer dealings have left the Teessiders with a great chance of mounting a successful promotion push, it is now up to Aitor Karanka to mould his new arrivals into a winning team.
Unless the Spaniard moves away from his obsession with a 4-2-3-1 formation, however, that could be easier said than done.
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As the early weeks of the season have proved, Kike is an out-and-out goalscorer, a classic number nine who comes alive in the penalty area. On the evidence of his performances in Belgium’s Jupiler League in the last few years, so is Vossen. And judging by his displays on loan at MK Dons and Derby, Bamford would describe himself in the same way too.
Clearly, three into one doesn’t go. Three into two isn’t an ideal fit either, but at least if Karanka adapted his starting system to accommodate two strikers in a central area, it would give his two highest-profile signings – Kike and Vossen – a chance to play to their strengths.
It would also enable Tomlin to remain in his most effective position linking midfield with attack, but accommodating all three players centrally would require Karanka to relinquish at least one of his holding midfielders.
Is there a need for two deep-lying midfielders in the Championship? Karanka clearly thinks so, but it’s not as though most opposition teams are going to feature a plethora of mobile attacking midfielders, especially at the Riverside.
By leaving one holding player out of the team, Karanka would potentially expose Boro’s back four to some added pressure, but wouldn’t the increased threat in the opposition’s penalty area make it worthwhile?
The alternative is to thrust square pegs into round holes, and the early whispers around the Rockliffe Park training ground suggest Vossen could find himself in the attacking midfield hole, with Tomlin shuffled out to the left.
That wouldn’t really suit either, and after chasing Vossen for more than 18 months, it would seem counter-intuitive not to use him in his best role.
Suddenly, Karanka finds himself with a lot of choices. Time will tell whether he is flexible enough to choose the right one.