Is this Middlesbrough's strongest side? Garry Monk's options assessed

Middlesbrough boss Garry Monk.
Middlesbrough boss Garry Monk.
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At the end of last season Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson vowed to try and "smash" the Championship this campaign.

Two months on, Boro have made six new signings, appointed one of the brightest young managers in the game and broke their club transfer record, all in the hope of a top flight return.

On the pitch, things haven’t quite clicked just yet, with Garry Monk still searching for his strongest side ahead of Boro’s opening game away at Wolves on 5 August.

That will also depend on players leaving before the transfer window shuts, and whether the Teessiders can complete any more signings before the end of August.

It’s still unclear what formation Monk will deploy and how he will attempt to get the best out of marquee signing Britt Assombalonga - a £15million acquisition from Nottingham Forest.

If the pre-season friendlies against Rochdale and Mansfield are anything to go by, it appears Monk would prefer to play an orthodox 4-2-3-1 formation.

So, if the season started tomorrow, what would Boro’s strongest side be in that shape? Here’s a look at the options.

Goalkeeper:

Darren Randolph

Boro folked out £5million for the Republic of Ireland international last week.

For that sort of money, you would expect the 30-year-old to be the undisputed number one at the Riverside this campaign, even if he faces competition from 24-year-old Connor Ripley and the experienced Dimi Konstantopoulos.

Randolph, who played 22 league games for West Ham last season, has plenty of experience in the Championship after spending two years at Birmingham City and should provide Boro with a save pair hands between the sticks.

Defence:

Cyrus Christie - Ben Gibson - Daniel Ayala - George Friend

The addition of Cyrus Christie from Derby should help solve Boro’s right-back conundrum, a position which has caused them problems for a couple of years now.

Should they all stay, Ben Gibson, Daniel Ayala and George Friend would make up a robust back four.

All three were part of Boro’s promotion-winning campaign two years ago.

Of the trio, 24-year-old Gibson has - as expected - attracted the most interest, and should he leave Monk would need to act quickly to find a replacement.

Gibson, who suffered a broken nose against Rochdale last week, is likely to miss the start of the season anyway, which could open the door for another academy graduate in Dael Fry.

Even if Gibson stays, Boro could still do with signing another centre-back, as injuries are inevitable over a 46 game season.

Midfield :

Jonny Howson - Adam Clayton

Monk certainly has plenty of options in the midfield engine room.

As things stand, the Boro boss could have five players fighting for two positions, with Adam Clayton, Grant Leadbitter, Adam Forshaw, Marten De Roon and new signing Jonny Howson all viable options.

Clayton’s consistency and ability to protect the back four will make it difficult for Monk to leave the combative midfielder out of his starting eleven.

Last season, Boro’s midfield scored just six goals between them, and their lack of firepower ultimately resulted in relegation.

The addition of Howson, who has a reputation for being a more attack-minded midfielder, should help address the matter and give Boro a better balance in the middle of the park.

Attacking Midfield:

Martin Braithwaite, Gaston Ramirez, Adama Traore

Another area of the pitch where Monk currently has numerous possibilities.

Martin Braithwaite, a £9 million arrival from Toulouse, can play upfront but may be used on the left to accommodate Assombalonga.

On the other flank, Monk still has Stewart Downing and the mercurial Adama Traore to choose from, though both have been linked with moves away from the Riverside.

Traore showed incredible potential in the Premier League last season with his blistering pace and power, however his final ball often let him down.

Even so, with the right coaching, the Championship could be a place where the 21-year-old could flourish.

After handing in a transfer request last season it seemed inevitable that Gaston Ramirez would leave Boro, after barely playing in the second half of last season.

Nevertheless, the Uruguayan is still with the Teessiders and reportedly training well.

Two years ago, Ramirez was exceptional for Boro in the Championship and, on his day, the tricky playmaker is still the Teessiders’ best option in the number 10 position - if he stays that is.

Attack:

Britt Assombalonga

Steve Gibson was so determined to land the muscular forward, that he made Assombalonga Boro’s record signing for £15million.

The 24-year-old has consistently found the the net throughout his career, despite a troublesome injury record.

Last campaign, Assombalonga netted 14 goals for Forest in 32 league appearances.

His goalscoring prowess and ability to hold the ball up should allow him to flourish at the Riverside, even if Monk elects to play just one upfront.

The Boro boss also has Rudy Gestede and Patrick Bamford to call upon, however Assombalonga will surely start the season as first choice.