Middlesbrough är en av nykomlingarna i årets Premier League, efter att ha spenderat sju år i divisionen under oss. Boro har annars varit en klubb som tidigare haft en hel del stora profiler i PL, namn som Juninho, Gaizka Mendieta och Fabrizio Ravanelli har alla burit den röda tröjan i högstaligan. Årets upplaga av laget har kanske inte riktigt samma profiler i truppen, men vi kan trots allt se gamle Barca-målvakten Victor Valdes och Citys PL-vinnare Alvaro Negredo bland motståndarna under onsdagskvällen. Cathrine Wilson(@basslady), bland annat bloggare på http://www.espnfc.co.uk/club/middlesbrough/369/index, har följt lagets resa och berättar nedan om var de står idag:

1. It´s been a while since we last saw you in Premier League, how was the time in the Championship?

It was a long seven years in the Championship that saw Boro ruled under four very different managers. Positive change and some real excitement finally returned back in 2013 when former Athletico Madrid defender (and Jose Mourinho’s right-hand man!) Aitor Karanka was secured to help lead the charge to the Premier League. He came close in his first full season, where Boro lost in the playoff final at Wembley to Norwich, but made it in style the season after, where an eventful 1-1 draw with Brighton was enough to take Boro back to the big time once more.
Many fans grew frustrated with the type of football they had to watch under previous managers like Gordon Strachan, so it feels like we have come on a real journey with the club and people are not taking for granted our new Premier League life now!

2. Are you satisfied with the start of the season and the amount of points you have gained?

Most Boro fans immediately got worried when they saw the spell of games that we had in October /November including Arsenal away, Man City away, Leicester away and Chelsea at the Riverside in the space of just a few weeks. We took 3 points from the 12 and were extremely unlucky not to have won at Leicester, who equalised for the draw with a last-minute penalty. Pessimists would have predicted that we took zero points from those games so now that difficult spell is over, and we have gained so much confidence from the results, we can get on with playing the teams around us and picking up some wins.

3. How would you describe Aitor Karankas style fo football?

Karanka was a Spanish international defender and he has worked very closely with Jose Mourinho so it is no surprise that he is keen to build his teams from the back and play in a very defence-first way. Boro’s defence is definitely the strongest element of the team, with midfielders doubling up for extra protection and the side set up around one striker, usually Alvaro Negredo. It is certainly not ”long ball” football so it is enjoyable to watch, but only when the side are full of creative impetus which usually comes from attacking midfielders Adama Traore and Gaston Ramirez.

4. Do you think the club is ready to establish themself in the Premier League?

Yes, I think that Middlesbrough are more than ready to establish themselves. Since the Premier League began in 1992 we have been a part of it more often than not, and we have always felt like a Premier League club. After being away for seven years it is so good to be back, watching top flight football and seeing the Riverside Stadium selling out once again.
As with all teams promoted into the Premier League, the key aim is to remain there after the first season. Then the financial gains you had for promotion become real and more concrete and you can begin to invest much more in the long-term. Karanka was very savvy with his signings over the summer (Victor Valdes and Alvaro Negredo are both expensive players but signed on short-term contract/on loan) so, all being well, next summer could be a time for greater investment in the club’s Premier League future and some even bigger signings.

5. What has been the talking points around the club this season?

The most obvious question that will be asked of Middlesbrough is ”can they survive?” and I would say they have more than shown that they have the strength in defence to compete with the best in the league, and that Karanka has plenty of options for when Plan A isn’t working. Aside from this, it is often mentioned that we have scored a worryingly low number of goals so far. People argued over this being the fault of solo striker Negredo, of him not getting the correct supply from the team or the fact that Karanka has barely played our £9m striker Jordan Rhodes.

6. Who are your key players this season?

The player attracting the most attention at the moment is our homegrown centre-back, Ben Gibson. The 23-year-old is the chairman’s nephew and a lifelong Middlesbrough fan so he is well-loved on Teesside! He has been one of the key players behind Boro’s great results against the big teams this season – draws away at Arsenal, Leicester and Man City, and being unlucky to lose 1-0 against Chelsea. Middlesbrough had the best defence in the entire country last season and this man is one of the big reasons why. He’s also attracting big price tags from the press and plenty of rumours about an international call-up…
The same could be said for midfield dynamo Adam Forshaw who struggled to make it into the promotion-winning squad last season but has really carved a place out for himself this year. He is the hard-working engine room who also has the vision and creative flair to be a real playmaker (can we say he’s our version of Steven Gerrard?!)
Obviously Negredo and Valdes have been a big focus as they are both veteran Spanish players brought in by Karanka to bring some experience to a fairly young side. Both seem to have found their feet in the Premier League now and we are hoping for the good work to continue. Also Gaston Ramirez, who was influential in last season’s promotion push, has pulled off some brilliant moments so far and is definitely our key creative player; we just need him to bring the same level of greatness with him every week.

7. What are your thoughts on Liverpool? Do you think we can compete for the title this year?

Liverpool have been a joy to watch so far this season and the whole new chapter under Klopp feels very romantic and engaging, even for non-reds! However, I’m still not sure you have the depth of squad and the optimum level of consistency to win the league – although you’ll be very close, I think that Chelsea will win the day