Can Michael Carrick Come Through His Trickiest Spell As Middlesbrough Manager?

Boro have lost their opening two league games without scoring
07:00, 15 Aug 2023

The buzz around Middlesbrough manager Michael Carrick was at an all-time high near the end of last season. Boro were stranded just outside the relegation zone when the former Manchester United midfielder arrived in the dugout, and he transformed them into one of the form teams in the league and put them into automatic promotion contention. 

Ultimately, they didn’t quite hunt down Sheffield United for second spot, and with their place in the top six secured, focus began to wane. In the final ten regular league matches of the Championship season, they won three matches. After thumping Norwich City and Hull City, they failed to win any of their final three. 

Boro fans pointed to Carrick resting players and a lack of focus. By the time the play-offs came around, they would be back to their best. But they weren’t. They were handed a lesson over two legs by Coventry City, who kept them out for 180 minutes, and won 1-0 at the Riverside to book their place at Wembley. 

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For Boro, it was the ultimate deflation. Carrick had taken them so far, but ultimately they’d lost momentum when it really mattered, and came up short in the big game. With the Championship’s top scorer in Chuba Akpom, and Cameron Archer on loan, they’d flown up the table, but that defeat caused more damage than they initially thought. 

Akpom is on his way out, and hasn’t appeared so far this season. He’s desperate to secure a move away from the Riverside and it looks as though Ajax will win the race for his signature for a fee in the region of £10m. That’s a decent chunk of cash for Carrick to spend, but he was a special talent who will need replacing. If you take him and Archer, who has returned to parent club Aston Villa, out of this Boro team, you lose 39 league goals from last term. 

Boro 20/1 to get promoted with Betfred*

It’s a big job for Carrick to go again. When he came into the club they were languishing just outside the bottom three after a dismal start under Chris Wilder. The club had a relatively strong squad and were seriously underperforming, so Carrick came in, lifted the mood and got them playing some attractive football. They couldn’t have gotten any worse, but the job he has done may have been overstated based on the recent worrying run of form. 

Boro have lost their opening two games of this season without scoring, extending their winless run to seven under Carrick. Their summer business has been slightly concerning, with Senny Dieng, Morgan Rodgers and Sam Silvera the only notable additions who started last time out. 

That 3-0 defeat at Coventry was completely lacklustre, especially given the Sky Blues lost Gustavo Hamer on the eve of that match, but Carrick can still turn things around. He proved last season he had the tactical awareness to compete against most sides and even with a weaker squad on paper, he should be able to rebuild. 

Perhaps what this debacle tells us is not to get carried away with young managers making their way in the game, especially when they are on winning or losing streaks. Carrick will make mistakes, and his high profile in the game as a player means the spotlight will always shine that bit brighter on him.

But he deserves a hefty dollop of patience from the Boro board, especially when he hasn’t been financially backed in this window like several other teams at this level. He’ll also have the backing of the Boro fans, who will be understanding of the situation he finds himself in. 

But Carrick is unlikely to hit the heights of last term, given the hand he has been dealt. He finds himself, for the first time in his managerial career, in a sticky situation. How he copes with it will prove whether or not he has what it takes to make it at the top of the game.

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