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: Sam Morsy
Sheffield Wednesday may have managed to escape the match with 3 points but neither team were particularly brilliant on the day. Middlesbrough’s defensive mistakes cost them in the first half, making it difficult for them to find a come back. Despite this there were still a few performances of note for Middlesbrough with Duncan Watmore managing to convert an early second half opportunity. However Sam Morsy, one of the more understated players in the team deserve the most praise for his performance against Sheffield Wednesday.
Middlesbrough fans know what to expect from Morsy now, with a number of combative performances in the central midfielder role of Neil Warnock’s side, displaying his brilliant tackling ability and his almost endless energy. It hasn’t always been sun and roses though as he has had some less impressive performances during his time at the club. Overall he has been a good addition to the squad.
Sam Morsy may have spent the majority of his Middlesbrough career in a central midfield pairing but with Howson’s injury Morsy was dropped back into his more well known position of defensive midfielder. Typically picked as part of a defensive pair with Saville, which was not the case against Sheffield Wednesday as Middlesbrough played a fluid 4-1-2-1-2, the details of which are highlighted later . Sam Morsy was playing at the base of the diamond, with one of Johnson, Bola or Dijksteel inverting to one of the central two alongside either Wing or Saville. Due to the wide players coming in, both Saville and Wing were playing very fluid roles, finding themselves in central midfield or No. 10 at different points in the game. This changed in the second half moving to a unbalanced 4-3-3 with Watmore spending the majority of the second half in a free role.
Playing at the base of the midfield, Morsy’s most important task was to break up the opposition attacks to protect the back line and he succeeded in this aspect of his game, making a total of 4 tackles and 2 interceptions, which placed him second and joint first in the team.
The next important aspect of his game was his distribution, particularly when Middlesbrough went behind and had to face the task of breaking down the opposition who sat back in two organised lines. This meant that the ball was often in front of the oppositions midfield line with the majority of the Middlesbrough team trying to find space ahead of the ball, giving Morsy a lot more possession. This can be seen in the Morsy’s 53 attempted passes, second only to centre back Dael Fry. This is further proven by the midfielder having a total of 7.2% of possession, the third highest in the team, with 2 times the mean amount of possession in the team. He was relatively successful in finding a man with these passes too with 39 passes on target, Many of these passes were made to players in wider areas in an attempt to start attacking moves. Finally, Morsy had a long ball success rate of 50%, having been successful in 4 of his 8 long ball attempts which is impressive for such a range of pass.
Finally, despite Morsy’s defensive positioning, he was also able to help offensively, making 1 off target shot. Meanwhile his only cross was able to find an attacking player. But the most important statistic in this area was the 1 assist that helped to create Middlesbrough’s only goal, showing he was a creative force even from deep, where he managed to make 2 key passes.
Due to Morsy’s position, his work often goes unnoticed by fans and reporters alike, and this is possibly made worse by the stereotype of enforcer that he is tagged with when playing a defensive role. In this instance though Sam Morsy showed that there was more to his game than that.
Worst: Marcus Bettinelli
As with the Best performer award, there were a number of contenders for the worst performer. The most obvious of which, Paddy McNair was at fault for the first goal and possibly deserves some of the blame for the second one too, in a performance that shows McNair is human, and even the best players have bad games. Despite this, he once again showed his capability on the ball against Sheffield Wednesday and produced a few interesting opportunities during the game. Due to this and his brilliant form so far this season, he has been excused on this occasion. Instead Marcus Bettinelli has found himself in this category.
Marcus Bettinelli is a player who divides opinion among Middlesbrough supporters with some singing his praise as a commanding presence who is able to sweep up and partake in the possession side of the game. Alternatively, some other Boro fans point to his current poor shot saving percentages as reason for alarm while implying that without the solidity of the defence then, he would have conceded considerably more goals.
He failed to prove his detractors wrong in this game too. Sheffield Wednesday made a total of 5 shots in the match against Middlesbrough, of which only 3 were on target, which resulted in 2 goals. This means that Bettinelli had a shot save ratio of just 33% in the match against Sheffield Wednesday, considerably lower than what should be expected from a goalkeeper.
Neil Warnock wanted to sign a commanding goalkeeper though and on a shoestring budget and Bettinelli certainly checks this criteria, helping to shore up a previously unsteady defence. All the same the most important part of a goalkeeper’s repertoire is his shot saving and perhaps Middlesbrough have been lucky over recent years with Randolph, Given and Valdes all wearing the gloves for the red and white team, however by these standards Bettinelli hasn’t quite cut it yet.
Most Improved: Marvin Johnson
This was the most difficult category to fill for the match against Sheffield Wednesday with the average display of the Middlesbrough squad on this occasion. However Marvin Johnson has had a recent upturn in form, and has yet to have been awarded this accolade despite some very impressive showings recently.
Every Middlesbrough fan is aware of what Johnson offers depending on which side of the pitch the former Oxford United player is drafted into. If he plays on the right then he will cut inside and look for a shot, on the left he aims to get crosses into the box whenever possible. While playing on the left hand side in recent games, Johnson has frequently found space in the wide areas of the final third to send teasing balls into the box from.
Middlesbrough played a strange system against Sheffield Wednesday, with Johnson, Bola or Dijksteel augmenting the midfield in the first half. If anyone but Johnson took up this role in the midfield diamond then the team would move to a 3-1-2-2-2. Here the attacking midfield two is the interesting part, with Johnson holding a wide role aligned with the central attacking midfielder causing some imbalance that was countered by Saville or Wing moving further wide when needed. Alternatively, Johnson tucked into the centre of midfield, usually to open up space for Bola to move into. Supporting the midfield from fullbacks and wingers was scrapped in the second half for a more traditional 4-3-3 with Johnson holding a wide role in another unbalanced system as Watmore held a more central free role over a wide right position.
In both formations, his role was almost constant but build up on the left hand side increased when 4-3-3 was implemented as he had Bola in support.
Marvin Johnson’s most important statistics came in what he was able to do going forward, he threatened the opposition with the second most shots in the team, resulting one shot on target and one hitting the woodwork, showing that he was close to scoring on 2 of the 3 occasions he attempted a shot. As previously stated, Johnson’s primary focus from left wing is to cross the ball and he certainly attempted this during the match, making 8 crosses. Unfortunately they were of mixed quality on this occasion and not a single one of them found a Boro man. However, Johnson showed an intent with these cross attempts that was otherwise lacking going forward for Middlesbrough for large stretches of the game. He also carried the ball on one occasion but mostly relied on receiving the ball from teammates in good areas.
The former West Ham player was also involved in build up, making a total of 24 passes, the 9th most in the team, while a pass success rate of 66.7% was respectable.
This may not have been Marvin Johnson’s best game, or an improvement on recent form and so on this occasion, the meaning of the accolade is flipped. Johnson was the player that most improved the squad, that without his involvement, Middlesbrough would have had little threat going forward in the early period and his willingness to keep going despite the lack of success from his crosses is commendable.