• Dan Christlow

An introduction to Chris Wilder and why he's the perfect fit for Middlesbrough

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

It seemed like Middlesbrough were ready to sleepwalk through the season, but a sudden change on Saturday has certainly shaken things up.

Speculation was rife during the day on social media that should the result against West Bromwich Albion go the wrong way, Neil Warnock would be on his way out of the door.

Nevertheless, wheels were clearly already in motion behind the scenes to relieve him of his duties regardless of the result.

It was evident for all to see that Warnock had taken Boro as far as he could and that meant that the time was right for the veteran to step aside.

The Boro away faithful gave him a well-deserved send off at full-time as the curtain came down on his 16-month spell on Teesside.

Not even 24 hours latern and his replacement was officially announced in the shape of ex-Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder, a man whose record speaks for itself.

Four promotions, winning the then-Conference Premier playoffs in 2010 with Oxford United, Champions of League Two with Northampton Town in 2016 and finally two promotions with the Blades in which he took them from League One to the Premier League within three seasons.

With that pedigree comes a very unique style of play which he adopted alongside his assistant Alan Knill.

The famous 3-5-2 overlapping centre backs system. A tactic that left the Premier League totally bewildered and led them to a 9th place-finish in their first season back in the top flight.

One thing that always seemed to be lacking in Warnock's tenure was an identity and a style of play, something that led to Boro being a very inconsistent side.

With Wilder now at the helm that is one thing that will surely be addressed and implemented into this squad; a squad that definitely possesses quality in all areas of the pitch.

So, how will Wilder set up this current Boro squad?

A 3-5-2 has been the go-to formation for the majority of the season so far, but Wilders interpretation of that is a lot more intricate.

Using Sheffield United in that amazing first season in the Premier League as the obvious example, they had their three centre halves in Jack O’Connell, John Egan and Chris Basham plus two wing-backs in George Baldock and Enda Stevens.

A midfield three in Oliver Norwood as a sitter, John Fleck and John Lundstram in the two more advanced roles, then two strikers in Lys Mousset, David McGoldrick or Oli McBurnie.

The right and left centre backs would join the wing backs and create overloads in attack and when needed the wing backs would tuck in to support the midfield.

The strikers meanwhile would often have the job of making shadow runs to open up the space and link the play.

With the ball, they played a possession-based style and implemented a slow build-up.

Without the ball they had a gritty resilience to them, the wing backs would tuck in alongside the three defenders while the midfield would cover every blade of grass, nicking a lot of games by a one or two-goal margin.

Do Boro have the personnel to achieve the success of Wilder's Sheffield United side?

It’s never going to happen overnight but already you could see Paddy McNair and Anfernee Dijksteel possibly playing as the two overlapping centre backs.

Matt Crooks is more than capable of being the equivalent of Norwood in the number six role.

There’s also plenty of competition for the left wing-back spot with Marc Bola coming into his own now, the exciting youngster Isaiah Jones and tricky loanee Onel Hernandez.

The other side perhaps does need addressing, with no natural right wing-back as Djed Spence is out on loan, while Marcus Tavernier and Jonny Howson have both had to deputise at times, meaning that it could be something for Wilder and Kieran Scott to identify in the January transfer window.

There’s still a long way to go in this Championship season and it wouldn’t be out of the realms of possibility for Boro to mount a push for the play-off places in the second half of the season.

At this moment it does feel like Boro are entering a new era.

Chris Wilder's comments in his first interview spoke volumes that he's here for the long haul and will definitely be putting his stamp on things around the club.

He talked about structure, fitness and most importantly a connection with the academy.

With Isiah Jones and Josh Coburn breaking into the starting eleven this season it just goes to show that Boro are still producing brilliant young players.

Wilder is a great appointment and it’s a testament to Boro that they manage to land him amid interest from other Championship clubs.

Let’s just hope he gets the backing and support he needs to lead Boro back to the big time.

Be sure to tune in to the latest Boro Breakdown podcast for all your matchday chatter in a pod, which you can find here.

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