Middlesbrough's midfield conundrum even with Aidan Morris set to arrive this week

Aidan Morris of the Columbus Crew defends against Johnny Russell of Sporting Kansas City
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)


The overall strength of the midfield department will have a major bearing on Middlesbrough’s ability to pressurise sides this season.

With question marks currently hanging over Hayden Hackney, Dan Barlaser and Riley McGree, this is the area where the squad may see most changes this summer. Certainly, Michael Carrick will be well aware of the need to ensure that all positions are covered and the team is adequately equipped in the middle of the park.

It’s also highly likely that Boro will already have a list of permanent replacements in place should the trio move on. Aidan Morris will be arriving this week to boost options, but he is regarded as the replacement to loan man Lewis O'Brien, and Boro will therefore have decisions to make if any other midfielders exit.

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As Carrick will be keen to try to engineer a lightning start for his team, Morris may not be the only midfielder in the melting pot. None of us want to lose Hackney because he has made such a massive impact in the side – and he is one of our own. We know what the team can achieve this season with him in the line-up.

Naturally, Boro have no plans to sell Hayden and that’s exactly what we want to hear. However, there’s always a chance that a big club will come in with a huge offer. If that happens then Boro will be forced to consider it.

Barlaser is a steady player who can never be accused of failing to do his best. He played in a lot of games last season. Yet he does not make the team tick and if he is tempted away by the move to Trabzonspor, then it’s highly likely that Boro will be able to cope with his departure.

Even if all three left, Carrick would have enough midfielders to fill the spaces in the line-up. Yet there are one or two questions elsewhere which need to be answered. Jonny Howson has reached the age of 36 and, while he knows no other way than to give 200 per cent every time he walks onto the pitch, there will be a time in the future when his legs do not always do what his brain tells them to. However, most of us will still be delighted if Jonny’s is the first name on the team sheet this season.

More of an attacker under Carrick but capable of dropping into midfield too, most Boro fans will also be disappointed if McGree moves on. The Aussie’s playing time was severely restricted to just 25 appearances last season, largely thanks to injuries. In ten of them he came on as a substitute.

Riley still weighed in with six goals, which was pretty useful. In addition, there were times when Boro were struggling, particularly in the early part of the season, when McGree did his best to lead by example and spur on his team-mates.

Alex Gilbert could come into the reckoning following his dramatic finale to the last campaign, though he may still have to climb another couple of rungs up the ladder to prove that he warrants the opportunity to play week in and week out.

Finn Azaz can comfortably operate in midfield, but could be challenging for a No.10 role, while Sammy Silvera made a lot of appearances off the bench last season and may need to step up to gain a regular place.

Law McCabe is a young talent who will knock loudly on the door. He will be planning to hit the ground running in practice games and friendlies in July. If he can prove ready, he could save Boro a lot of money this summer by negating the need for another central midfielder after Morris.

Isaiah Jones is nailed on for the right-sided role and will have a big role to play this season, as ever. Seny Dieng will likely retain his number one spot and the striker role is Emmanuel Latte Lath's to lose. But there are not too many other players we can confidently pencil in for starting places in the opener just yet - and that competition is no bad thing.