Middlesbrough's issues to solve and lessons to learn as they look to improve next season

With Middlesbrough's season over, the period of reflection will be taking place as Michael Carrick and co. plot their moves for next season.

The Boro head coach has set his stall out early and made clear that his goal is to challenge for promotion next season and, despite various issues making this one a challenging season, Boro were only four points shy of another top-six Championship finish.

So while encouragingly the gao is not insurmountable, and they take positive momentum into the season after a strong end to this campaign, there will undoubtedly be focus on the issues of this season that need solving and also the lessons to be learned. We take a look at five key ones below.

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When reflecting on Boro's past ten months there can be no escaping the very real problem of injuries. In total, Boro players missed a combined total of over 300 Championship games last season at an average of missing 6.5 players per game. No matter the depth of your squad, any club will struggle to handle that.

Boro have carried out an in-depth review of the crisis and while there are some background changes and upgrades taking place, they are confident in their conclusions that nothing they've done as far as last season's preparations and general day-to-day training has contributed to the problem.

The big test will be next season. With a variety of injuries through meaning no real pattern, the conclusion is one of mainly just a season of bad luck, while injuries were a growing trend across the whole game anyway.

But for that to carry weight, Boro surely need to have their injury record look a lot better next season for questions not be asked further on the methods and workload of the players. If Boro are to make a success of next season, there injury record has to be better.

Slow start

For the third consecutive season, a slow start ultimately plagued Boro. While there were inconsistent spells throughout the period, not winning a single game in the opening seven has to be looked upon as a really costly period - particularly with hindsight of just how close they came to a top six finish.

Why the slow start? While Carrick remains adamant that his side were still playing well enough to earn more points than they did in those opening seven games, it's undoubted that the high turnover of players last summer played a big part in the poor start. With 12 new arrivals, the team that started the first game of the season featured only five starters from the play-off semi-final defeat three months earlier.

There would be more changes from there too. As 12 new arrivals in the summer took time to learn their new individual tactical expectations and collective combinations, Boro ultimately struggled to get the results they wanted in matches.

While that overhaul was ultimately needed last summer, it shouldn't be needed this time around and Carrick has already spoken about the importance of continuation. It's a key lesson to learn from last term, with January additions needing time to adapt too. While there will inevitably be additions in this summer's transfer window, if Boro can use the foundations in place to allow new faces extra time to settle, it should leave them in a far better place.


Undoubtedly not helped by the injuries which resulted in picking a similar XI being such a rarity for Carrick, but nevertheless, Boro were, until the end of the season, such an inconsistent team last season. That will also be a risk of being a relatively young squad too.

Carrick spoke often about consistency throughout the season and how it was the magic ingredient. Far too often during the campaign, you went to Boro games just not knowing what version of Boro would show up on that day. While Carrick could never admit it publicly, he probably felt the same. If Boro are to match the ambitions of their head coach next season they simply have to find that level of consistency that sets the best from the good.

Beating the low-block

One of the biggest sources of frustrations this season has been Boro's frustrating inability to beat many teams they'd be expected to beat. In comparison to what was a good record against top-six teams, their record against teams in the bottom six was not complimentary.

There's no better way of highlighting that than the fact they took all six points from league champions Leicester City, and yet picked up just one point against bottom-of-the-league Rotherham United. That must improve next season, but was it just typical Boro?

Where Boro particularly struggled this season is when teams operated with a low block defensive line, offering Boro little space to exploit in the final third. While the first iteration of a Carrick Boro side had flair players like Aaron Ramsey who could produce a bit of unpredictable magic to unlock a defence, Boro lacked that too often this time around.

Not having Riley McGree or Marcus Forss for much of the season hardly helped, while Finn Azaz proved his value towards the end of the season as he started to get to grips with things. Not having a natural attacking left-back like Ryan Giles hardly helped either, with Alex Bangura missing much of the season through injury too.

While they'll hope to use such players much more next season, they are also looking to sign a new forward/attacking midfielder during the summer transfer window too. They have solid forward options but one more who can produce something a little bit different certainly would improve their chances of always having an answer to whatever defensive puzzle they're faced with next season.

Defensive balance against the transition

Carrick's style is an ultra-positive one but, this season, lacking that killer edge for large parts, that could shoot them in the foot as they'd be caught at times far too easily on the transition. Their final run of just one defeat in 12 games came as they largely seemed to solve that problem - keeping five clean sheets in that time.

While the goals were shipped throughout the season, Carrick often noted that it wasn't just the responsibility of the defence to protect the Boro goal. Indeed, the decision at the end of the season not to sign Lewis O'Brien appears to be one inspired by an appreciation that a different kind of midfielder is needed.

While it's not known for sure, that surely means a more defensive-minded midfielder who can offer that bit of balance and protection to the defence against the counter attack. At times, after attacks broke down, teams find it far too easy to just bypass Boro's midfield and overrun the final third and punish Boro. In their defence, they did address it though, with that solid end offering positive signs going forward.