The annual feasting for relegated teams’ best players is well underway. Joshua Tymon has joined Stoke City, Andrew Robertson is on his way out of Hull and Jordan Pickford was quickly plucked by Everton.
Middlesbrough slumped into the Championship in unspectacular fashion last season. Aitor Karanka’s style of football brought no goals and – despite a seemingly good start to the campaign – they were doomed from the early weeks of 2017. Karanka stayed longer than the club should have allowed, but it was perhaps the most disappointing relegation of the three. Boro went down without a whimper.
The standout players, as a result, were few and far between. The midfield was dominated by noble industry, the attack brought measly returns. The defence, however, was impressive on the odd occasion. The challenge, though, is whether that was a result of the system of individual form.
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One player touted to retain Premier League status is Ben Gibson. Whoever his partner was at the heart of Boro’s defence, Gibson was an image of calm. He commanded the back line, and showed the ability to control some of the league’s best players in one-on-one duels.
The potential suitors have been varied. Though staying at Middlesbrough remains the market leader at 33/100, Leicester City sit at a tempting 4/1 to add the English central defender to their squad before the window closes. The Foxes have only this week completed the signing of Vicente Iborra and could be set to spend heavily as they look to avoid another brush with relegation that triggered the sacking of Claudio Ranieri last season.
The acquisition of Harry Maguire does make the 4/1 price look a little short, unless Craig Shakespeare will be completely overhauling a back line that won the title marginally over a year ago.
Any other club being in the reckoning for Gibson looks unlikely at this point. Tottenham at 12/1, Liverpool at 16/1 and Chelsea at 20/1 have all been linked with Boro’s rock in the past, but all have seemingly identified other targets this summer.
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Of the three, Spurs are the team I can envisage making a move for Gibson, mind. Kevin Wimmer is on his way out of the club, and depth is certainly required for the Lilywhites to maintain a challenge on all three fronts, whether it be with a back three or a back four.
The concern over Gibson has to be about judging his adaptability. Although Middlesbrough’s defence was resolute for the majority of the season, Karanka’s outright safety-first approach clearly aided that. Calum Chambers’ good form for much of the campaign cannot go unnoticed, either, and the deep block that Boro opted for meant that Gibson seldom had to defend high up the pitch. Whether he moved to Liverpool, Chelsea or Spurs, Gibson would be required to defend in a vastly different way to how he was asked at the Riverside.
It could turn out to be a perfect signing – and working with Mauricio Pochettino has brought out the best in many players – but it looks like a banana skin ready to be slipped on in cartoon fashion by a top six club.
On the other hand, should Leicester want a new partner for Maguire, Gibson might be the best option around.