Middlesbrough are 90 minutes away from returning to the Premier League, and there’s plenty of optimism around Teesside as manager Aitor Karanka has his team in a confident mood going into the Wembley showdown with Norwich on Monday.
This optimism and belief has been a rarity in recent years, but the Spaniard has brought stability into the squad with the emphasis focused on winning, a trait that also sits well with his good friend Jose Mourinho and his triumphant Chelsea team.
Three-time Champions League winner Karanka was assistant manager to Mourinho in his time at Real Madrid and has a calendar of The Special One in his office at Boro’s Rockliffe Park training facility. Both left Madrid in 2013. However, this wasn’t the end of their working relationship as the pair followed different paths in England.
Programming note: For residents in the United States, the match will be shown Monday live on beIN SPORTS from 10am ET. Pregame coverage begins at 9am ET. Plus, you can listen to a live audio show discussing the game (and other topics) with World Soccer Talk’s Kartik Krishnaiyer and Christopher Harris from 9:45am ET on Rabble.tv.
There are uncanny similarities between the two managers and their clubs, with both the Premier League champions and Championship Play-Off finalists helping each other throughout the season.
Through Karanka’s connections with the Chelsea boss, Boro were able to secure three loan signings that have had a real impact at the Riverside. Kenneth Omeruo had a strong start to the season and Tomas Kalas was inspirational during his loan spell.
The Czech international showed his disappointment at not being able to play the full season due to Football League loan regulations. The defender has, however, stayed with the squad since his last game in the victory at Carrow Road; signifying the togetherness of the squad Karanka has assembled.
The third, Patrick Bamford, has had his best season yet. The England U-21 international has scored 19 goals and picked up the Championship player of the season award. His form has had Chelsea fans’ alarm bells ringing as they would like to see the promising youngster sign a new contract at Stamford Bridge; something he is yet to negotiate with the champions.
Chelsea have utilized the loan market this season and used the Championship experience at Middlesbrough to bring on their highly rated young prospects; a smart move from Mourinho, who may have found a future England starlet out of nothing in Bamford.