How Neil Warnock has changed Middlesbrough's 2020/21 Championship odds despite having a depleted squad

Middlesbrough boss Neil Warnock.Middlesbrough boss Neil Warnock.
Middlesbrough boss Neil Warnock.
FourFourTwo magazine predict Middlesbrough will finish 13th this season. Bookmakers SkyBet, meanwhile, have priced the Teessiders at 7/1 (11th favourite) to get promoted. Yet looking at the squad alone, those predictions don’t entirely seem to match up.

Yes Boro have some decent players at this level, the likes of Britt Assombalonga, Jonny Howson and new signing Grant Hall have all proved themselves in the Championship while there are some exciting young players to keep an eye on.

Yet it’s hard to ignore the squad has some obvious flaws right now – not least their lack of players.

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For starters, Boro have just two senior centre-backs with significant Championship experience in the shape of Hall and Dael Fry.

The club also finished as the division’s lowest scorers last season and have long been crying out for some creativity in midfield.

There is finally some pace out wide following the emergence of Djed Spence and Hayden Coulson, yet Boro still don’t have a natural winger who has consistently performed in the second tier.

Throw into the mix that nine players have left Teesside since the end of June, either permanently or on loan, with only one coming in, the aforementioned predictions leave you scratching your head a little.

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Yet the reason many are tipping Boro to overachieve is obvious.

Neil Warnock has defied the odds before by winning Championship promotion with QPR and Cardiff, and the aim is to do it again with Boro.

Yet even the experienced Yorkshireman has needed to point out he’s no magician, and that was back at the start of August when he hoped he’d have three or four more signings by now.

Fast forward to the start of September and Warnock has admitted it’s unlikely Boro will make any signings this week, just two days before the Teessiders’ Carabao Cup opener against Shrewsbury.

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Yet Warnock found a way to win four of his eight games at Boro last season, keeping the Teessiders up when relegation was a worrying possibility.

Like former boss Jonathan Woodgate, Warnock would like his side to play in a 4-3-3 formation but had to alternate between a back four and back three last term.

The difference was that Warnock, with 40 years of managerial experience behind him, knows exactly what it takes to steady the ship, make his sides difficult to beat and ultimately get results.

That will be even tougher this term, especially with a depleted squad and after a truncated pre-season.

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But despite the challenges Warnock often finds a way, whether that means a change of system or getting players to raise their games.

Despite their lack of natural centre-backs, it looks like Boro will start the season playing 3-5-2, with Anfernee Dijksteel playing as a right-sided centre-back.

That should help the Teessiders keep things tighter at the back, at least until they can bring in new recruits.

Of course there will only be so much Warnock can do with the squad he has, yet, as the odds suggest, many are aware of the manager’s influence.

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