The gruelling pre-season schedule is now in full swing and there is optimism around Teesside, with what promises to be an exciting summer of transfers ahead.
The aim this season is for Aitor Karanka’s Boro to try and go one step further than last year’s whirlwind campaign, making sure they begin the 2016/17 campaign in the Premier League.
The success of last season came as a surprise for many after Boro lost three of the opening five games. However, after an array of last minute crafty loan deals, Karanka finally got the team playing exciting football.
Going into the back end of 2014 the Teessiders went unbeaten for months on end and cemented a back four that would go on to be the best in the league.
The manager has said that the focus this season is to be ready from the off, as those nine points dropped at the start of last season proved a clinical blow to Boro’s promotion hopes.
Many of last year’s play-off final squad have moved on and there’s a Patrick Bamford shaped hole upfront.
There is good news for Boro fans, however, as reports around the Riverside suggest Karanka and Head of Recruitment, Gary Gill, are close to filling these gaps with more than adequate replacements.
First through the Ayresome Park Gates was versatile defender Alex Baptiste, who looked a great signing after the loss of centre-backs Kenneth Omeruo and Jonathan Woodgate to retirement.
The former Blackpool defender was stretchered off midway through the first half of Boro’s opening pre-season friendly against York, meaning he will be out of action for the majority of the season with a double fracture to his leg.
Just as Boro looked like they’d never find a fix to the curse at right back, Tomas Kalas returned to the Riverside on a season-long loan from Chelsea in what may be the most likely signing in the history of the club.
Burnley new boy Jelle Vossen started behind Bamford for the majority of last season, but never really looked as promising in Red as he did in a Genk shirt, hence the reason Karanka opted against bidding for the Belgian.
With Lee Tomlin operating out on the left, Karanka has a space to fill behind the striker. If Twitter reports are anything to go by, Boro fans are in for the most important signing of the last decade; a return to his homeboy club for Stewart Downing.
The England international is undoubtedly Premier League class and has turned down offers from the top tier clubs to reunite with the Riverside once again.
Steve Gibson has agreed a fee of around £5.5m, with the payment rising up to £7m if the season’s objectives of promotion are achieved.
Downing is likely to be utilised in the number 10 role, where he was exceptional last season and arguably West Ham’s best player.
All that’s left is for the Boro lad to sign the contract and then fly out to meet the squad at their training camp in Marbella, where they beat Leyton Orient 3-1 last night in a pre-season friendly.
Scoring goals was the weak link last season and the addition of Downing will boost the opportunities going forward, but there is no one to challenge Kike for the number 9 role.
Espanyol’s Christian Stuani is said to be heading to the North East with the fee agreed at around £2.5m. The 28-year-old started at the World Cup for Uruguay and netted 12 times in 15 in La Liga last season.
Stewy and Stuani leading the strike force in the Championship – it certainly has a ring to it.
Another of Chelsea’s bright youth prospects may follow Omeruo, Bamford and Nathaniel Chalobah in a season loan on Teesside. Jose Mourinho is likely to send 20-year-old old Nathan Ake to the Championship to earn some game time and valuable experience in the most competitive and rewarding league in the world.
The club’s bid to have the deals done early is looking promising, meaning the squad will have plenty of time to gel before walking out at Deepdale on August 9th for the opener against newly promoted Preston North End.
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