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Post-Season Review: Central Midfielders

This series is going to review each of Middlesbrough's remaining squad members based on their performances last season, finishing on a rating out of 10. Before looking to the future as a forecast for what Middlesbrough fans could expect from each player moving forward.

The squad members have been split into their different positions including: Goalkeeper, Fullback, Centre Back, Central Midfield, Wingers and Strikers.

This article will cover central midfielders.


George Saville:


Millwall are famous for their combative style of play that mirrors its fanbase and Saville has certainly displayed elements of this since moving from the London based team.

He has also shown that he is capable of covering the yards that are needed to play as a box-to-box midfielder. His passing is decent and he played the ball forwards relatively frequently.

Despite this there are still a few questions surrounding the 27 year olds play as he pushes forward and intensely presses the opposition. A trait that has been a gift and a issue as he has been able to steal the ball from the opposition on occasion setting up counterattacking situations. However this often pulls him out of formation and sometimes the other midfielders fail to cover his actions making it easier for the opposition to break Boro down.

The team also had a poor pass completion rate last season, which was something that didn't improve under Warnock, and as such could be a point of issue for the team moving forward. The low pass success rate could be due to tactics, formation, playing style and the manager. However Saville and the other midfielders may also find the finger of blame pointing towards them in this issue as crisp and accurate passing is one of the cornerstones of being a midfielder.

Overall Saville had a decent season with some good performances sprinkled in.

Rating: 6.5/10

His future:

Saville is Warnock's type of midfielder and he fits into just about any system that Warnock may want to deploy during next season and so he may well become a key player next season.

However being part of the engine room of the team means going through a lot of hard yards each match so he could well tire at points during the season, at which Warnock may well decide to rotate him out of the midfield.


Patrick McNair:


McNair was one of Boro's best players at the start of the season as he provided a ball carrying drive through midfield that was sorely missed once he was moved back to centre back.

He added goals to these performances too which was important as goals from players outside the strike force have been lacking in recent seasons.

He is ok in the defensive roles that he was deployed in. However it was clear that he was lacking in comparison to players that are natural in that position. What's worse is that he was dropped deeper in the team during his best form in midfield and he failed to recapture such form when he was moved back into the position and in some instances he was relatively ineffective going forward. Had he been able to recapture his best form towards the end of the season he would have been given a better rating.

As a midfielder he can also be partly to blame for the poor pass success rate of the team as a whole, however the blame can be lightened slightly due to his playing style focusing on breaking the midfield line through progressive dribbling over passing.

Rating: 7/10

His future:

The Northern Ireland International played the majority of Boro's games last season and there is a high chance that he will be heavily included again next season.

Warnock will most likely see him as someone who can offer the team a different dynamic in midfield and his offensive capabilities could be readily seized upon and utilised next season.

However Warnock will hope to bring in another midfielder or two to allow him to rotate his midfield more frequently next season. Meaning that a drop in form from the former Sunderland man could see him drop out of the team at times next season.


Lewis Wing:


Wing made a massive jump up the leagues when he signed for the club from Gateshead, a relative unknown at the time.

Since his arrival and burst into the first team, he has excited fans with a number of impressive strikes from outside the box, including a couple of close range free kicks.

However a faction of Boro fans have questioned whether the jump from National League to the Championship is too much for the midfielder.

His pass completion, a big concern for Boro fans, was one of the highest in the team last season, and although it wasn't particularly outstanding for a midfielder and as such be indicated as another reference point for the teams pass success rate as a whole, it is unfair to single him out for this.

He does have an issue regarding his passing, however as he can be overly relaxed in open areas in his own hand where he doesn't feel pressured causing him to make mistakes with lazy passes or playing the ball into pressure areas.

Under Pulis, Wing was given the freedom to find space between the lines when the team was in possession, letting more experienced players rotate the ball and cover counter attacks. In turn, Wing found himself in dangerous shooting positions and maximised his threat.

Woodgate used Wing in a different role, however, as he became a player who sat more frequently, with Tavernier and McNair trying to break the lines. But he would occasionally arrive late at the edge of the box to have shots through a crowded box.

Although he is capable at this roll it limited his better abilities going forward and put him in positions where he was more liable to mistakes.

Further proof of this fact is the performances that Wing had during the few games he played as an unorthodox attacking midfielder, in which he was rated at his highest. In such a role he looked for space to shoot over threading passes to attackers and he was relieved from passing in deeper positions which helped to cut out his lax passes. The threat of his shots also helped to disrupt the defensive line as he had to be pressed when he got the ball.

Rating: 6.5/10

His future:

The lack of minutes at the end of the season will be a minor concern for the 25 year old as he would have hoped to have had more time to show the new manager his worth and that has had an impact on his preseason performances, of which Warnock has said that he was trying too hard.

However, even if Boro are able to bring in a new midfielder, he will most likely stay at the club next season as the squad is limited in this area of the pitch.

Whether he plays as frequently as he did last season remains to be seen as it appears that Warnock isn't convinced about the right-footed midfielder.

There is a possibility that he could become a specialist for Boro where he is picked in a forward role, offering more defensive structure against teams that attack through the middle as well as being a long shot threat against defences that struggle to deal with such attempts on goal.


Ultimate decision:

Neil Warnock's search for a new midfielder shows that he isn't content with how his current midfield stacks up. There are two possibilities in this case: 1) He thinks there isn't enough midfielders to comfortably complete a season (which makes sense should he want to deploy Tavernier out wide as he did in the latter stages of last season). 2) The players at his disposal aren't what he needs to be successful as a manager.

Wing for one will hope that it is the former as, considering the role he played in the latter stages of the season, he would become a bit-part player or even move on.

There is little chance, on the other hand, that McNair and Saville will be moved on as they consistently played during the final stages of last season and they both appear to be Warnock's style of player.

There was a train of thought in the latter periods of the season that McNair would benefit from a more offensive role, which he was deployed in on a few occasions last season. However it is a theory that has yet to have been tested in depth and losing his dribbling from deep positions through the midfield lines could be costly for a team that struggled to breakdown most Championship defensive structures last season.

Saville will hope to continue to be a consistent and reliable midfielder as he starts a season under a manager that relishes players that are good in the tackle.

Both Saville and McNair will most likely play a large role next season.

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