This series highlights three of Middlesbrough’s performers from the last game indicating which of those players deserves praise. Points at a player that could be on an upward trajectory and one that will be hoping for a better performance next time out.
Best: Anfernee Dijksteel
The Dutch defender has been nothing short of a revelation thus far this season, having appeared out of obscurity towards the end of last season he proved himself to be capable of producing some decent performances as a sturdy centre back. However, he wasn’t overawing at this point and certainly his performances have improved further after an extended time under the supervision of Neil Warnock. The Sheffield-born manager has often mentioned how he enjoys improving players, turning them around and helping them to prove their worth on the pitch and Dijksteel has been his biggest success story in this instance. His performances this season have seen him break up attacks consistently, cover marauding full backs with comfortable ease and produce question making runs himself, and that was just from his time at centre back. In fact, his performances have been so impressive thus far that Middlesbrough fans are dubbing him Virgil Van Dijksteel.
Middlesbrough originally signed Dijksteel to play as a right back, however he seemingly struggled in the role last season and when he was converted to centre back he looked considerably more comfortable and at ease in this role and, as mentioned above, he produced some impressive displays in this position. When Middlesbrough have played 4-3-3, which has been a growing inclusion in recent weeks, the 24 year old has put in some very good, consistent performances once more. Proof of this is his inclusion here, after playing in the role. Some might question whether he performs better as a centre back or a right back and I have my personal perspective on this question. However, it is more important to recognise what a key role he could play this season as he is capable of producing in a number of positions and as such a number of formations.
While playing at right back, Dijksteel’s defensive performance has not let up, as he ensures that covering the defence is his highest priority, as such, he made a total of 3 clearances and 2 blocked shots, ranking as the second highest in the team in both. Having such defensive security was paramount during a match against Brentford, who have considerable attacking prowess, with the likes of Toney and Mbeumo leading their offensive line. Thanks to the efforts of the defence, the chances that Brentford’s players had during the match were nominal, showing how well they performed as a whole and individually. It should be further noted that Dijksteel made a total of 4 interceptions, the most of any player in the team, which helped to further extend Boro’s attempts to prevent Brentford from getting into the flow of the match.
He was also a strong distributer making a total of 29 passes from a success rate of 72.4%. That helped Middlesbrough to transition after often extended periods of defensive play. The teams transition was further aided from his 2 successful long passes out of a total of 4 attempts giving him a long ball success rate of 50%, helping to make Boro a threat in a match that could have quickly become an attack vs defence drill.
This was a very good performance by Dijksteel and is indicative of the player that has proved how capable he is at this level since the start of the season and as long as he continues on this upward trajectory, he could become a Premier League talent.
Most Improved: Marc Bola
Marc Bola had a poor season last season and as such I stated that he may well have found himself in the surplus to requirements category and thus sold on by the end of the season. However, such predictions have thus far been proven wrong by the former Arsenal academy player as he has shown considerable improvements since the start of last season and while I wasn’t wholly and truly convinced about him during his early season appearances, there was a markable improvement in his performances. Further still against Brentford, which has convinced me further that he may well still have a place at this level.
The 22 year old was introduced to the team to replacing Marvin Johnson at left back and has been a relatively constant inclusion in the first team since, indicating Neil Warnock’s confidence and belief that the player deserves a place and a chance in the team. If the game against Brentford is anything to go by, then he is beginning to really come into his own now.
The 22 year old’s contribution was also visible in his statistics from the match as he made the second most interceptions, with three and the joint fourth most clearances with two. Helping to ensure that Middlesbrough remained defensively solid throughout the game.
He also supplied 28 successful passes during the teams build up play with the 4th best pass success rate in the team with 78.6%. The former Nike academy player also contributed the same amount of long ball attempts at the same conversion rate of previously mentioned Dijksteel.
There have been clear improvements in Bola’s performances this season as he appears to take incremental steps froward every time he steps onto the pitch. If he continue in this upward trajectory then he may well become a key player for the team moving forward, turning him from a player in obscurity to a key cog in the new Boro machine.
Worst: Chuba Akpom
Akpom drew an interesting split in the Middlesbrough fanbase when he was confirmed as a Boro signing this season, with many being concerned that his goalscoring numbers weren’t enough for him to be regarded as an improvement on the strikers that were already at the club. However, in term of goals per 90 minutes played, Chuba Akpom is a steady improvement on Fletcher and Assombalonga’s numbers.
The 25 year old striker started the season firing on all cylinders as he managed to hit the net twice in two games. Unfortunately he has recently hit a dry spell meaning that he now has a goal every four games ratio. However, a lot of Boro’s early matches have been against relatively strong opposition and the team is still glaringly missing a creative force when the no 100% fit Patrick Roberts is not involved in the game, as such being over critical of his current form would be a little harsh.
He has also found himself isolated in a number of games this season as Middlesbrough prioritise preventing the opposition from creating chances, over their own offensive capabilities as such there have been a number of games where he has struggled due to the lack of support and the match against Brentford was, perhaps, synonymous with this issue.
This isolation was most apparent in Akpom’s offensive statistics as the former Arsenal player made a single shot during the game which he failed to get on target. Even more telling than this was the total lack of aerial threat that Akpom posed during this match, having previously scored an impressive header from a corner at the very start of his Boro career, as none of Boro’s players managed to meet any of their wingers 17 crosses, the main fault of which has to lie at the feet of the ball in from the wingers and the striker, who in this case was Chuba Akpom.
Finally out of 12 attempted passes, the 6ft striker was only able to complete 6 a 50% conversion. This is perhaps the closest statistical indication of his isolation upfront increasing the difficulty of his passing attempts.
Chuba Akpom was by no means poor in the match against Brentford. However his statistical output and lack of threat during the match was indicative of the style that Warnock had imposed on his team for the match, which helped the team compete, with the most notable impact occurring in the midfield area. Furthermore, his current goal drought shouldn’t be of great concern to Middlesbrough as such periods occur in all strikers careers and with Britt Assombalonga as an alternative and Ashley Fletcher making a steady return, Neil Warnock could soon have alternative options of people to call on should they need to find a goal.