Middlesbrough would have gone into this game with the hope that the side could turn around their recent poor form against a Derby County side that was sitting in one of the relegation places. However it wasn’t to be as Wayne Rooney’s side came out of the clash as 2-1 winners.
The Teessiders are currently missing some integral players as Marcus Tavernier and Dael Fry have been forced onto the sidelines with injuries and their omission was clear to see on the pitch, certainly an argument could be made that the side would have faired better with these men in the side.
Despite Middlesbrough conceding 2 goals Anfernee Dijksteel performed admirably for Boro and so deserves to be praised for his efforts. He is capable at centre back and pairing him with Hall or the injured Dael Fry could prove to be a formidable centre back pairing. However he would have to compete with Paddy McNair for the ball playing centre back role and that would be a challenge against the ‘Rolls-Royce’ centre back. Still it provides back up without altering the way the side player and gives the player flexibility when Darnell Fisher is picked at right back.
On the other hand, a lack of creativity in the middle of the park had a two-fold effect on the side as they struggled to break down Derby’s defensive structure during the second half with the majority of the sides chances coming from free kicks. While Middlesbrough’s attacking pattern became predictable and so it was easier for the Rams to prevent the side from maximising their strengths. It was George Saville who was given more license to push forward from the midfield three and so he takes a larger proportion of the shared blame.
Finally, Neil Warnock was pleased when the Neeskens Kebano transfer made it over the line on deadline day and the winger has begun to show flickers of why he wanted the player to join him on Teesside. In all likelihood the former Genkie will improve and become increasingly effective from now until the end of the season but early signs are positive.
Best: Anfernee Dijksteel
There have been a number of revelations for Middlesbrough so far this season. Marc Bola returned from a loan to Blackpool and many expected him to be sent away from the club permanently but he is now a mainstay in the side. Duncan Watmore came to the club from Sunderland having never shown prolific goalscoring form and ended up scoring at an impressive rate during his early months. Finally Anfernee Dijksteel has shown his impressive ability as a defender so far this season earning him the nickname Virgil Van Dijksteel. While the use of the nickname has dropped with his less dramatic performances of late there is no doubting his ability and Middlesbrough fans will be hoping he can return to that level sooner rather than later.
The biggest issue for the Dutchman is his injury record as the player has been forced to spend a number of periods on the sideline which has prevented him from finding the form that he showed in the early stages of the season particularly since he has played without 100% fitness in recent times due to the teams lack of availability in the defensive areas. Yet he can prove to be a solid influence and there are indications that the player may find his best form with the biggest of these coming against Derby County.
The transfer review article details the possibility of Anfernee Dijksteel’s move into central defence and it has come into fruition as he replaced the injured Dael Fry at the heart of the defence. This has resulted in the side having one clear weakness at the heart of the defence: a lack of height. Neither player can be blamed for this fault as it’s a physical attribute that you can do little to change.
The defender did very well in dealing with non-aerial threats though as he successfully broke up play by winning 5 tackles and making 5 interceptions, the most of any player for any side, and he also put himself where it hurt as he blocked one of the oppositions shots. Meanwhile his relatively low 1 clearance per 90 is more due to the fact that Middlesbrough were rarely ‘under the cosh’ and so there were few situations where a clearance was the best choice.
While Middlesbrough had the majority of the games possession and Dijksteel’s possession and distribution indicate the nature of the teams time on the ball. The first thing to note is that Dijksteel’s 7.3% possession was second only to his centre back partner McNair, who had 8.1%. Equally, McNair made the most pass attempts with Dijskeel coming second. This shows that the majority of the sides possession was in the heart of the defence indicating the lack of penetration and attacking influence that the side had (even when McNair moved into midfield his replacement, Grant Hall, had the most possession of any of the substitutes). This lack of movement and breaking down of the opposition’s defensive structure can be seen again in Dijksteel’s impressive pass success rate of 85.2%, one of the highest pass rates for any Boro player in any game so far this season showing the lack of risk in the players passes. Alternatively Dijksteel did slip up with a pass to McNair that ran short, leading to a goalscoring opportunity but the tired and worn-out pitch played a massive role in this mistake as had he made the same pass at the Riverside then it would have found its intended target.
The lack of height posed to be the defences biggest issue against Derby but excluding that and his missed pass the player had a good game and there were indications for the talent and ability that had Middlesbrough fans so excited when he was in his best form.
Worst: George Saville
The Northern Ireland International has had a good season so far for Middlesbrough. However Neil Warnock has entrusted him to be a goalscoring and chance creating midfielder in the absence of Marcus Tavernier and while his strengths are elsewhere in his game, including his energy and combative playing style, his failure in this aspect has to be noted.
George Saville is a marmite player with some fans believing he is the best midfielder at the club and others believing that he is a waste of a place in the XI and should be dropped. However regardless of which side it is viewed from it is undeniable that the player is going through a rough patch in line with the side as a whole and he needs to find his best form soon if the side has any aspirations for reaching the playoffs.
Neil Warnock favours a 4-3-3 formation: a deeper midfielder screens the defence and starts the attacks and ahead of him a midfield pairing where one pushes further forward to augment attacks with the other links defence with attack. The more offensive midfielder would have been Marcus Tavernier if he was fit and able to play (now the new signings have been made) but his injury has left a space in the side which has been taken up by George Saville as the most prolific of the midfield trio that the Sheffield born manager prefers.
When playing in this role there is a lot of stress on how the player succeeds going forward and that is the area that the midfielder has struggled most in. He failed to make a single key pass and instead moved out wide to send in 2 crosses that didn’t meet a Middlesbrough head. Saville had a handful of golden opportunities against Brentford which resulted in him taking the most shots against the London based side but that wasn’t to be against Derby as he made a single shot that didn’t hit the target.
Alternatively his distribution was solid enough as he attempted 23 passes with almost 70% of them succeeding in finding their man placing him 8th and 5th in the team respectively. However few of these passes moved the side onwards or managed to create an opportunity which has to be considered as a let down considering the role that he was playing.
Finally, his usual disruptive influence was subdued against Derby too as he made just 1 tackle and 1 interception as the game was played in a way that prevented him from exercising some of his best attributes.
The former Millwall player has succeeded in this more advanced role on previous occasions, but they typically came when Tavernier, playing on the right, would cut in and provide creativity through the centre. The absence of the Middlesbrough youth academy product has stressed the importance for creativity from other players, one of the things that Saville struggles with.
Most Improved: Neeskens Kebano
A lot of the transfer deadline day drama surrounded the late signing of Kebano and Warnock praised those behind the scenes in bringing him to the club and he has started both games since as Warnock believes the player has a key role to play.
While the former Genkie hasn’t played a great deal of minutes for the North-East side since his arrival he has hinted at what he could offer the side. His cross against Brentford proved to be awkward for David Raya who fumbled the ball into his own net. However it was clear that he is still getting into the swing of things at Middlesbrough and so there should be excitement for what is yet to come with Neeskens Kebano.
Neil Warnock started Kebano on the right wing where he had his most successful stint in the game, but he was moved to the left when Nathaniel Mendez-Laing was brought on and he struggled to make any impact from that side of the pitch as the former Cardiff City winger took a more prominent role in Middlesbrough’s attack. The Fulham loanee was given specific directions by Warnock which lead him to hold the width of the team by hugging the touchline and when he got the ball he attempted to beat his man and/or put a cross into the box. He would also drop into the box when the attack came from the other flank, which is how he scored his goal.
The players biggest influence on the game has to be the goal that he scored late in the second half that gave the team a chance to come out of the game with a point or three on the board. The finish in itself was a nice one as he put spin on the ball to get it past David Marshall. The DR Congo international was the most threatening player in the first half as excitement rose when he was on the ball. He made 5 crosses during his 81 minute appearance and created some of the sides only chances as he shared the top key pass maker with one.
While he may have only made 18 pass attempts against Derby his success rate was very impressive as only one of these passes failed to find their man.
The potential for the Fulham loanee to have an impact on the team this season was clear in his performance against Derby County. However there is still someway to go before he starts to set the Championship alight.