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Has the form of this attacking midfielder been Middlesbrough’s missing link?

Championship

Has the form of this attacking midfielder been Middlesbrough’s missing link?

When Jordan Rhodes finally arrived on Middlesbrough’s doorstep on the final day of the January transfer window, Boro fans believed that it would be his goals which made the difference in their quest to reach the Premier League. Fast forward two months, and the Scotland international has just a pair of goals for his new side with 12 appearances to his name. This is certainly a disappointing return for a man who had scored over 20 goals for Blackburn in his previous three Championship campaigns.

It would be harsh to say his brief spell on Teesside has been a disaster and he could still be a huge success. Many fans will argue that Boro don’t play to Rhodes’ strengths or give him the required service a lone striker craves for. It could also be noted that the work he does off the ball creates space for others who have subsequently benefitted. However, one man who hasn’t struggled settling in or finding the back of the net since his arrival on Teesside is the Uruguayan playmaker Gaston Ramirez.

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After signing on loan from Southampton until the end of the season, the capture of Ramirez now looks like a masterstroke and he has already netted six goals in 11 appearances for his new side. Despite their strong defence Boro have lacked a regular goal-scorer throughout the campaign. David Nugent is still their top scorer in the league with eight. However, it would be no surprise if Ramirez surpassed that with seven games to go, even though he only arrived half way through the campaign.

It is clear that the introduction of Ramirez into Boro’s starting eleven has given Aitor Karanka’s side a huge boost in the attacking third. The Uruguayan’s performances in the number 10 position behind the striker have been so effective that he has made the position his own in recent weeks, while local favourite Stewart Downing has been forced to operate on the left.

 

When you look at the stats, it is no surprise why. Downing has scored just three goals all season in his 38 eight league appearances. In contrast, Ramirez has netted double the amount after playing less than half the number of games. Since his return to the club in the summer, Downing has taken a total of 15 shots in the league. His biggest attribute in his second spell on Teesside has been his ability to create chances and delivering crosses into the box, a trait which predominantly suits a natural winger.

Ramirez on the other has been far more potent playing through the middle and has taken a total of 12 shots at goal since January – that’s more than one per game.  He is also far more attack minded and regularly arrives into the area to support his fellow striker. In Boro’s game against Huddersfield at the start of this month; in which Ramirez scored twice, the Uruguayan had eight touches in the opposition’s penalty area, which was more than any other attacking player on the pitch. It’s not just his ability with his feet which helps him either. At six foot tall, he is also affective in the air, as demonstrated by his headed goals against Wolves and QPR.

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The good news for Boro fans is that Ramirez’s contract at Southampton does expire at the end of the season meaning he will be available if a contract can be agreed. That could depend on the division Boro end up in next season and who else is interested. However at the current time Ramirez appears to be enjoying his football again after tough spells at Southampton and Hull. He has certainly given Boro a much needed lift and has been the answer to a lot of their problems when it comes to scoring goals.


Featured Image: All rights reserved by Dan Westwell

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