Rehearsal goes well
BORO’S dress rehearsal went just about as well as could be hoped.
They edged a tight, relatively entertaining game against topflight German opposition Augsburg 2-1 at the weekend without picking any injuries of note.
What’s more, six of the club’s new signings made their Riverside debuts, five as starters, and most will be pleased with their afternoon’s efforts.
The biggest surprise of the afternoon was Boro’s fluid formation.
In his previous four friendlies since taking charge, Garry Monk had deployed a pretty strict 4-2-3-1.
But, against Augsburg, the team lined-up in a 4-1-2-3 formation that switched to 4-3-3, 3-4-3 and to a 4-1-2-1-2 midfield diamond depending on the circumstances.
From the stands it looked like a fluid, flexible, shapeshifting, evolutionary life form and, considering it was the first time Monk had used the system at Boro, worked surprisingly well.
At the back, Adam Clayton at times actually dropped into central defence to make up a defensive trio, sitting between Ben Gibson and Dani Ayala.
That enabled full backs Cyrus Christie and George Friend to push up and create a midfield four either side of Jonny Howson and Marten de Roon.
Further forward, Britt Assombalonga, Martin Braithwaite and Patrick Bamford linked up in a mobile front line.
All three elements took turns on the left, right and in the middle, though it was Braithwaite who looked the most comfortable with the constant tactical transitions.
The Dane was hugely effective when he dropped into the hole, effectively operating as a No10. He hit several killer passes, made explosive breaks into the box and was a constant threat.
When the midfield diamond took shape, Braithwaite operated at the tip, leaving Assombalonga and Bamford as the two strikers.
But he was just as comfortable as one of three up top.
Of course, formations are all well and good, but the ulti- mate aim is to win football matches by scoring at one end and keeping things tight at the other.
Defensively, Boro at times were a tad rusty and Augsburg’s opener was a poor goal to concede.
There were other scrappy moments at the back, though that’s understandable as a new unit beds in. Skipper Ben Gibson was imperious but Dani Ayala looks like he needs a couple more games under his belt to rediscover his top form.
The full-backs, for their part, both looked to get forward and Boro will cause opposing sides plenty of problems down the flanks when Friend and Christie are in full flow.
The question now is which system will the manager use at Wolves on Saturday?
Monk may be reluctant to revert to 4-2-3-1 because the attacking players he currently has at his disposal have appeared to struggle to flourish in that system throughout preseason.
They looked much more comfortable with the various formations used against Augsburg.