Middlesbrough may have endured a frustrating week following defeats to Southampton and Liverpool, but despite heading into Saturday’s meeting with Swansea City just three points above the drop, they’re unlikely to be dragged into a serious relegation battle.
The Teessiders can point to an excellent defensive record this season, conceding just 19 times in their opening 16 games, the fewest of any club in the bottom half of the table.
It’s not difficult to see why they’ve looked so strong at the back, when you consider the options Karanka has at his disposal – and every player drafted into the oft-changed Boro defence has impressed.
Not least Ben Gibson, who continues to go from strength to strength at centre-back, with Arsenal loanee Calum Chambers impressing alongside him, while former Premier League winner Fabio is showing glimpses of his immense quality at left-back, .
While things haven’t quite clicked at the other end, there’s no doubt the Boro have some excellent creative talent – and natural finishers at their disposal.
Attacking midfielder Gaston Ramirez chalked up 15 goals and five assists in just 60 games with Italian outfit Bologna, and could be on the verge of rediscovering his best form, having netted twice in his last four games, before a brief absence with a minor injury.
Meanwhile, Alvaro Negredo – who netted 21 times in 32 games for Manchester City in 2013-14 – showed his natural finishing ability with two well-taken goals in the 2-2 draw at the home of champions Leicester City, a game Boro were unlucky not to win.
Indeed, while many of the sides around them in the bottom six have struggled to impose themselves in games, Karanka’s men have regularly performed well and fallen just short of getting some great results.
They’ve lost by just a single goal to both Southampton and Chelsea during the past month, and led at Leicester until the 94th minute. Having already chalked up away draws at Arsenal and Manchester City, there’s no doubt the North-East outfit are on the right track.
And they have an eminently winnable run of games coming up, which could see any lingering fears of relegation evaporate by the turn of 2017.
First up is the visit of Swansea City to the Riverside Stadium, with Bob Bradley’s men having taken a solitary point from their last seven away games, conceding 18 times in the process.
That’s followed by a trip to Burnley – a side Boro have an excellent record against, with the Teessiders winning five and drawing two of the last nine meetings. And that’s followed by a trip to Old Trafford, where they won in the Capital One Cup last season.
Our traders seem to agree the future is bright for Middlesbrough, with odds of 1/7 for Karanka and co. to stay up this season.
Meanwhile, the 11/10 for the Teessiders to beat Swansea looks like excellent value indeed, while the 17/10 for Negredo to score anytime is also worth a flutter.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing