How does the current Middlesbrough team compare to the relegated 2008/09 side?

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka

Middlesbrough are about to make their return to the Premier League. Is their current team stronger than the team that got relegated from the top flight?

After seven years of Championship football, Middlesbrough FC are back amongst the big boys of English football. But the question on the lips of the fans around Teesside is a simple: what chance do their team have of avoiding the drop?

Let's compare some of the key players in the current squad to those of the 2008/09 era - the Middlesbrough team that suffered relegation from the Premier League after a 19th placed finish. 


Víctor Valdés VS Brad Jones 

Manchester United's Victor Valdes

Liverpool's Brad Jones

One 'keeper who is yet to begin his Middlesbrough career, and one who departed the club before his stay began in earnest. Not that Boro fans were particularly unhappy to see Brad Jones leave. In the summer of 2008 long-term stalwart between the sticks Mark Schwarzer left the club, and manager Gareth Southgate decided that no replacement was needed - instead leaving Ross Turnbull and Jones to fight for the number 1 spot.

Turnbull was selected for the first half of the season, but after conceding plenty of goals was replaced by Jones, who also would go on to concede plenty of goals for the rest of the year. Turnbull left at the end of the season to join Chelsea, supposedly because Middlesbrough couldn't offer him enough first team football. He clearly hadn't heard of a handy keeper at the Bridge called Petr Cech, because he would go on to make just seven first team appearances for Chelsea in the next four years.

Jones left the club a year later, in a £2.3 million move to Liverpool, another transfer that left Boro supporters bemused. Needless to say, Jones' switch to Anfield was just as successful as Turnbull's spell at Chelsea. Valdés is yet to make his official debut for Middlesbrough, but is already the club's most decorated player. He has to get the nod in this battle - if he performs any worse than Jones did in 2009 then he'll be chased out of Teesside with pitchforks.


Dani Ayala VS Robert Huth

Middlesbrough's Daniel Ayala celebrates their second goal

Leicester City's Robert Huth in action with West Brom's Saido Berahino

A real clash of titans. Ayala has been Boro's best defender in recent years and is a genuine Premier League quality centre-back. Huth, however, is of course a current Premier League champion. His time at the Riverside was plagued by ankle injuries, but the big German showed undeniable steel and quality when he did make it onto the pitch.

A fan favourite, each block or clearance would be followed by a hearty rendition of 'Huuuuuuuuth' from the stands, and supporters were disappointed but understanding when Huth joined Premier League Stoke following Boro's relegation. Huth operated alongside other favourites in the 08/09 Middlesbrough backline, such as Emmanuel 'Poggy' Pogatetz and hometown boy David Wheater. Ayala's quartet contains similarly idolised defenders like George Friend and Ben Gibson. Two no nonsense defenders, we'll have to call this one a draw. 


Adam Clayton VS Didier Digard 

Jordan Cousins of Charlton and Adam Clayton of Middlesbrough


Picture Supplied by Action Images

A £4 million buy from Paris Saint Germain, Didier Digard was the proclaimed midfield maestro that Boro had been tracking for years and finally landed in 2008. Unfortunately, whatever qualities the Middlesbrough scouts had identified in DIgard before he arrived at the club didn't manifest themselves particularly well at the Riverside, and Boro were relegated in the same year with little impact made by the Frenchman.

Clayton on the other hand was a less celebrated signing when he arrived from Huddersfield in a swap deal for Jacob Butterfield, but has gone on to be a permanent fixture in manager Karanka's set-up. Clayton will hopefully flourish on the big stage this season, he comfortably wins this battle. 


Alvaro Negredo VS Alfonso Alves

Alvaro Negredo celebrates after scoring the third goal for Manchester City

Middlesbrough's Afonso Alves looks dejected after missing a chance to score

Well this decision is another easy one I'm afraid. Negredo is another new signing in Boro's summer spree, and a high profile one at that. But there's a problem with being a high profile striker signing for Middlesbrough, an unwanted legacy left by a man whose name makes every Middlesbrough fan shudder and wince: Alfonso Alves.

Signed from Heerenveen for 20 million euros, Alves is comfortably Boro's single worst ever piece of business, and his face has unfortunately become the face of Middlesbrough's woeful relegation. Negredo has been out of form in Spain in recent years, which is probably why the initial deal to sign him is a loan deal. But if he fires, he has the power to rip through any defence in the league, and with players like Stewart Downing (a man who was part of that relegation nightmare seven years ago) and Albert Adomah, he could be the man that ensures the club's survival this year. Supporters pray - he can't be the next Alfonso. Can he? 

Overall, it has to be said that Middlesbrough's squad is looking far more competent this year than in the year that saw them relegated. The club have worked hard to attract some big names to the club, and Karanka will be hopeful that they combine well with the promising base of talent already in the squad that achieved promotion last year. There's no way of knowing whether Boro will escape the drop zone this year, but compared to the infamous relegation squad of 08/09, the current group seem to be better placed to remain in the top flight. 

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