TONY PULIS admits there is a chance Lewis Baker could make an early return to Chelsea, with the Middlesbrough manager still determined to move on a number of players before he begins to consider potential additions.

Pulis concedes he has inherited an “unbalanced squad” from his predecessor, Garry Monk, with an especially high number of midfield options. As a result, he will look to trim up to four or five players before the transfer window closes at the end of the month, with any incoming business set to be dictated by the number of outgoings.

The Boro boss is aware of considerable interest in a number of his players – most notably Adam Clayton and Patrick Bamford – but is yet to receive a single formal offer. He has already curtailed Connor Roberts’ loan move from Swansea City though, and is considering making the same move with Baker.

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The 22-year-old signed a season-long loan when he left Stamford Bridge in the summer, but has not made a single league appearance since the end of September. He has not been involved in any of Pulis’ three matches in charge, and the Boro boss was forced to organise a practice match at the training ground this week to enable him to see the likes of Baker in a semi-competitive environment.

Chelsea’s coaching staff have always rated the England Under-21 international extremely highly, and Antonio Conte is unlikely to be happy with his lack of involvement so far this season. Pulis will make the final call over his future though, and admits there is a chance Baker could make an early return to West London.

“Lewis played in an 11-versus-11 game we organised at the training ground this week, and that was important for him because he needed that game,” said the Boro boss, ahead of this afternoon’s home game with Fulham.  “I haven’t been able to see a lot of Lewis, and that makes it very difficult to say what is going to happen or what is not going to happen with him.

“It’s just a case of sucking and seeing with where we’re at really, and waiting to see what situations arise. He’s a good lad, and he’s worked hard around the training pitch, as they all have. That’s been good.

“With Lewis, the decision is simple – he either stays or he goes. That’s the decision, and there’s no secret about it. He’ll either go back because he wants to play, or he gets his head down, stays here, and tries to get in the team here to play. If he can do that, then brilliant. But it’s all about what we can do as a football club, for the good of the football club. It’s not about individuals. It’s everybody that matters, not just one or two individuals.”

With the hectic festive schedule over, Pulis has finally been able to enjoy a full week of work on the training ground, and the Boro boss has relished the opportunity to learn more about the players he has inherited.

He already knows their technical capabilities having watched a number of their previous matches, but has been trying to assess their characters and personalities as he looks to mould a squad that will be capable of winning promotion.

There will be players that fall by the wayside in the next few weeks, and that will be as much to do with the way in which they conduct themselves as with any of their strengths or weaknesses once they have the ball at their feet.

“Personality and character is everything for me,” said Pulis. “If you have the right personalities and characters then that’s a massive thing. You can have a few little scallywags around, but generally you want really solid people.

“I’ve worked with some little scallies, but they’ve always been in very solid groups, and they’ve thrived because of that. I think if you haven’t got a really solid group and you have one or two of those around, then it can cause you problems.

“But if you have a very solid backbone, and the club is set up the way it should be, then these characters can thrive. People think they can’t, but they can. It’s amazing how you see them develop with the stronger characters.”

Ideally, Pulis would like to make a couple of additions this month, and he has been sounding out potential targets with the rest of Boro’s recruitment team.

However, with Steve Gibson having funded a £50m spending spree in the summer, the former Stoke, Crystal Palace and West Brom boss admits it would be unfair to start throwing around more money without first looking to recoup some of the recent investment.

“We’ll be trying to improve it as we can, and as we move on,” he said. “That’s the important thing. You have to keep moving in the right direction. It’s small steps, but those steps have to be really solid so you can build from them.

“That’s what we’ll be trying to do, but the chairman has spent a hell of a lot of money in the summer, so to come in and just say, ‘I want this’ or ‘I want that’ without assessing it or trying to generate some money myself wouldn’t be right. I’m not going to do that because I don’t think it would be fair on Steve or the people around the football club.”