- Middlesbrough head coach Michael Carrick has transformed the club’s fortunes after taking over in October
- Under previous manager Chris Wilder, the club were near the relegation zone
- The Teeside club currently sit third in the league
When Middlesbrough appointed Michael Carrick as head coach they were just a point above the Championship relegation zone. Despite being tipped for promotion by many, and with an experienced manager in Chris Wilder, they were a club in disarray at the start of the season, and parted company with Wilder on October 3.
Come October 25, Manchester United legend Carrick would embark on his first senior managerial role. His coaching career up until that point may well have been limited to a three-year spell as assistant manager of United, and a three-match reign as caretaker manager, but his relative inexperience has rarely shown.
Middlesbrough had only won four league games out of 16 before his arrival, losing seven. But they’ve only lost four of the 18 Carrick has presided over, winning 13. This included a four-game winning run around the festive period, and another five-game winning run beginning at the end of January.
Burnley surely can’t be caught in top spot at this point, but as Sheffield United in second have begun to falter slightly automatic promotion isn’t totally out of the question. Middlesbrough sit third, and while the play-off places are as tight as ever, this would have seemed unimaginable a few short months ago.
In truth, with the squad Middlesbrough have, they should be sniffing around the play-offs, but Carrick has exceeded expectations.
Players in Form
Chuba Akpom is in the form of his life, with 19 league goals to his name so far this term. His best seasons to date had been at PAOK in Greece, and in his only full season with Middlesbrough two years ago he managed a meagre return of five goals in the league.
Meanwhile, Finland international Marcus Forss has been chipping in with goals too, as have Matt Crooks and Riley McGree. Forss has been given a new lease of life under Carrick, perhaps considered more ‘one for the future’ by Wilder, Carrick has given him a real chance, and it’s paid dividends.
And Carrick hasn’t been afraid to stamp his authority on the squad and make some big calls. Indeed, Isaiah Jones, Championship Player of the Month for December 2021, has been dropped from the starting XI, while Carrick seems to have a good idea of his strongest side. He’s not been chopping and changing a great deal. Why would he need to when things have been going well?
Darragh Lenihan and Paddy McNair have been solid at the back and forming a solid centre-back partnership. In the 16 games before Carrick took over, they’d conceded 21 goals in 16 games. Since then, they’ve conceded 19 in 18, with three of those coming against high-flying Burnley.
Then there’s midfielder Hayden Hackney, who’s just 20 but has seamlessly slotted into the team. Before Carrick took over, his professional experience was largely limited to a spell at Scunthorpe United in League Two last term, but he looks more than capable at this level.
Changing the Mentality
But while he has his strongest team in mind, he’s not afraid to make changes in-game when he feels they’re needed, making substitutions, or tweaking his tactical plans.
Carrick likes his teams to have possession, controlling the game and ideally scoring more and conceding fewer goals than the opposition. And in terms of his man-management, he’s changed the mentality around the club too.
He recently spoke to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink for EFL partner Sky Bet, explaining that he tells his players to express themselves and enjoy playing football. This is in stark contrast to the way things operated under Wilder with players low on confidence.
No transfer shake-ups
Something else that makes Carrick’s transformation of the team more impressive is that he’s done so without making any real radical shake-ups in the transfer market. Midfielder Daniel Barlaser joined from Rotherham United in January and has made a couple of appearances so far, while young Aston Villa duo Cam Archer and Aaron Ramsey have arrived on loan. 20-year-old midfielder Ramsey has made a promising start, while Archer, a 21-year-old forward, has bagged a goal every other game in the league.
The only departure of note has been forward Duncan Watmore, who left to join Millwall after a couple of years with the Teesiders. While always a solid player for the club, the feeling is that his departure is no disaster. Middlesbrough aren’t short of quality in his department.
Championship seasons are always long and gruelling, and this one has had the added chaos of the World Cup sandwiched between the two halves of the campaign. Breaking into the top two won’t be easy, and even just a couple of poor results can see a team drop from play-off security back into the mid-table mix. Middlesbrough will need to keep looking over their shoulders at the likes of Norwich City and Watford, as well as Blackburn Rovers, Millwall, and Sunderland, but it’s difficult to see them not making the play-offs if Carrick’s good start to his managerial career continues.
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