MIDDLESBROUGH'S preparations for the coming campaign are continuing in Portugal this week, with Michael Carrick's side facing their first friendly of the summer this weekend.

It's been a busy and positive start to the summer for the Championship promotion hopefuls. Here's what we've learnt from pre-season so far:


It's rare for a squad to take shape so early in the summer.

Middlesbrough aren't finished yet when it comes to transfers but ticked off three priorities before the players had even reported back for pre-season. And while the theme of last summer was uncertainty on the back of so many high-profile exits, this time around there's real clarity. You could have a good go at naming the starting XI for the opening weekend visit of Swansea now.

Luke Ayling was one of Boro's most influential players in the final stages of last season so to get the full-back through the door on a permanent deal was an early boost. Delano Burgzorg was identified last season as the versatile forward Boro wanted and immediately made it known he was extremely keen on the switch to the Riverside.

And Aidan Morris was Boro's top midfield target who was tracked for more than 14 months before putting pen to paper.

The early arrival of Morris and Burgzorg will give the duo the chance to get settled and get a grip of Carrick's likes and demands. Getting business done early was a real "focus" on Teesside this summer, said Carrick, and means he can plan and prepare for the coming season with a clear picture of how his squad and team will look.

But his squad will be further boosted before the window closes. Boro want another striker and the return of Ryan Giles is looking increasingly likely.

There was further transfer joy earlier this week when Harley Hunt completed his move from Swindon. The 16-year-old will initially link up with the academy but Boro have first team hopes for the teenager down the line.

Exits are inevitable this summer. Matthew Hoppe is available and Boro wouldn't stand in the way of a move for Anfernee Dijksteel if the opportunity presented itself. If Giles does arrive, then there's a decision to make at left-back given there'll be three senior options on the books.

And on the subject of being well stocked in a specific department, Boro will have five senior goalkeepers if, as expected, Jamie Jones signs a new deal. Seny Dieng will be No.1 next season, Jones will be third choice, leaving Sol Brynn, Zach Hemming and Tom Glover battling it out for the role of deputy. Glover was linked with a move away at the end of last season and both Brynn and Hemming impressed enormously out on loan.


Aidan Morris' omission from the USA squad this week for the coming Paris Olympics means the midfielder will benefit from a full pre-season at Middlesbrough.

Had he headed off to the Games, Morris could have been gone for a number of weeks, with the final of the Olympics tournament scheduled to take place on the day Boro host Swansea in their Championship opener.

He'll now instead be available to feature in all of Boro's pre-season games, though he will have his workload managed after playing the large bulk of an MLS campaign before his Riverside switch was confirmed. Morris will be desperate to hit the ground running but there'll be no pressure and he'll be allowed to find his feet.

Carrick's midfield looks strong. Jonny Howson was as crucial as ever last year and Hayden Hackney is now back fully fit after his struggles at the end of the campaign. Dan Barlaser has been linked with a move to Trabzonspor but there's been no contact from the Turkish club and the former Rotherham man is preparing for the coming season as normal.

Law McCabe will also be part of the first team picture again this season on the back of his breakthrough last term. He was rewarded with a new four-year contract.


McCabe is one of two Boro youngsters to have made the trip to Portugal for this week's warm weather training trip, Sonny Finch being the other.

Finch endured a frustrating year last season, with the teenage attacker battling a problematic ankle injury that kept him sidelined for a lengthy spell.

But he returned at the back end of the season, immediately set about impressing once more in the youth ranks and earned a spot on the first team bench and an appearance as a substitute in April's win over Swansea.

Carrick is a big fan of Finch, who was quickly promoted to the first team set-up after the head coach's arrival at the back end of 2022. Carrick has been equally as impressed by McCabe and said at the end of last season "there's so much more to come" from the 18-year-old.

Both McCabe and Finch will get their opportunities in the coming pre-season games.



Last season was heavily disrupted by injury for Boro, who at one stage had an entire starting XI out of action.

But the picture is looking very different now. There are still players who continue to work on their rehab with Marcus Forss not yet ready for action and Tommy Smith and Darragh Lenihan both working on their own programme.

But the likes of Riley McGree, Dael Fry, Josh Coburn and Hackney have now all put last season's struggles behind them. Fingers crossed there are no fresh setbacks in the coming friendlies. Carrick is going to have real options and depth come the start of the Championship campaign.


As Kieran Scott put it earlier this summer, Carrick has a "right problem" at centre-half. But it's a problem a head coach will relish rather than dread.

Rav van den Berg, Matt Clarke, Dael Fry and Darragh Lenihan. It wouldn't be hard to make the case to say at their best they all get into any Championship defence. So who gets the nod at Boro?

Last season, Carrick never had all four fit at the same time but hopefully he'll be presented with that dilemma in the coming months. Van den Berg and Clarke finished last season in outstanding form, with the Dutchman now, you'd think, the first choice centre-half and Clarke having stunned coaches with his superb return from a career-threatening injury. But Fry and Lenihan have both shown in the past they're leading Championship defenders.

It's a battle that will benefit Boro, who will be looking to carry their defensive solidity from the back end of last season through into the coming campaign.