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Boro's fate is all but sealed


Can Aitor Karanka help Middlesbrough stick in the Premier League?

Here's a look at Middlesbrough's 2016-17 season. Aitor Karanka has masterminded Boro's return to the big time after seven seasons in the Football League, but now he must keep them there.

At a glance

All eyes will be on a rejuvenated Middlesbrough team who make their return to the Premier League looking much more primed for action than promoted counterparts Burnley and Hull.

Quick predictions

Premier League: ​14th
FA Cup: Fourth round
League Cup: Third round

Transfer business

Manager Karanka has hit the transfer market hard this summer, bringing in a haul of experienced players for free (Gaston Ramirez), on loan (Alvaro Negredo) and on short-term contracts (Victor Valdes). He has spent his money on rising stars, such as winger Viktor Fischer from Ajax and tricky midfielder Marten de Roon from Atalanta, and looks set to curate a balanced mix of seasoned skill and fresh talent in his squad.

In the quest for promotion last year, goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos contributed some blinding performances as part of an outstanding defence, but some fans question whether he can keep the pace in the Premier League. Aston Villa's No. 1 Brad Guzan joins former Manchester United and Barcelona goalkeeper Valdes, meaning the No. 1 position is up for grabs this season.

Aitor Karanka has been a real find for Middlesbrough. Can the fledgling manager inspire a strong season?

Key questions

Last season, Boro found themselves in the envious position of having the most watertight defence in the Football League, conceding just 31 goals. How will their defence cope with the step up to Premier League attacks and deal with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Harry Kane?

There will be some keen eyes on striker Jordan Rhodes, who came to Boro from Blackburn at the 11th hour on January's transfer deadline day. After an unsure start, he found confidence, as well as the back of the net, nicking some crucial goals for a Boro in crisis as they foundered their way through February. Now, with Spanish superstar Negredo boosting Karanka's strike force and David Nugent still knocking at the door, who will make the grade? Karanka's fondness for a solo shooter up front means that competition will be fierce.

Potential pitfalls

Karanka is known for his tempestuous nature: Rumoured dressing room unrest and spats with players led to him walking out of training in March this year. He also got hot under the collar with frustration at officials during last year's pressured campaign. Can he keep a cool head in the top flight?

Championship clubs came to the Riverside last season with 10 men behind the ball in an attempt to hold tight and potentially score on the break. It made for some unattractive football at times, frustrating for fans to watch, but Boro had the wherewithal to get around this tactic on most occasions. When squaring up to the likes of Manchester United under Jose Mourinho, who has seen much success with this strategy before, can Boro find the magic to break through?

Adam Clayton has been solid for Boro since joining two seasons ago.

One to watch 

Industrious midfielder Adam Clayton really came into his own last season during his second term with the club. He played his heart out as Boro's No. 8, barely missing a kick in an arduous Championship season. Player of the year awards given by Middlesbrough supporter groups only serve to highlight his importance and his rapport with the club's fans. In partnership with captain Grant Leadbitter, he was a formidable force in the centre of the park. Now he will be the ideal tonic to Boro's host of creative attackers.

Catherine Wilson ESPN FC's Middlesbrough blogger. You can follow her on Twitter: @Basslady


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