AITOR KARANKA has urged Middlesbrough to take a leaf out of Burnley’s book as they look to haul themselves back into the Championship promotion race in the second half of the season.
Burnley returned to the top of the Championship table with a 2-1 win over Blackpool at the weekend, and Sean Dyche’s side are the next visitors to the Riverside on Boxing Day.
At the start of the season, precious few people had the Clarets down as promotion contenders, but despite boasting one of the smallest squads in the division, not to mention one of the lowest wage bills, the Turf Moor club have lost just two of their 21 games.
Their squad might lack star names – although leading scorer Danny Ings is attracting admiring glances from a number of Premier League clubs ahead of January’s transfer window – but Karanka has been impressed with the way in which Dyche has assembled a unit that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The Boro boss is attempting to cultivate a strong team spirit at the Riverside, and although he admits his current squad is too big, he is hoping to mimic Burnley’s unified ethic.
“Burnley are a good example for Middlesbrough to follow,” said Karanka, who is hoping to build on Saturday’s 2-0 win at Millwall in two days time. “When I was a player, I quickly learned that you can have some very good players in your squad, but if you do not play as a team, that is not very good.
“I prefer to have a very good team rather than a collection of talented individuals, and Burnley seem to have that team relationship. They definitely play as a team and that is coming through in their results and performances.
“We are building that, and we are training to build a team. I think we are getting there, but we have to win the games to prove it.”
Saturday’s victory came despite the absence of a number of senior players, and Karanka was delighted with the impact of the players who came into the team.
Jozsef Varga performed creditably despite being moved to right-back to cover for the injured Rhys Williams, while Curtis Main also impressed as he was preferred to Lukas Jutkiewicz in attack.
“I am pleased because all the players in the squad are proving that they can come in and do well if they are called upon,” said Karanka. “Before Saturday, Jozsef had only played for five or ten minutes at Derby for me, and he was asked to play in a position that he did not know very well. But I thought he played very well.
“There were others players who had not had much football, but they all came in and did well. I have a squad of around 27 players, and it is important to know that each player is capable of playing each game if they are required.”
Ideally, Karanka would like to add to that squad in January, although players may have to depart to free up some space on the wage bill before new signings can arrive.
The Boro boss has discussed his plans with chairman Steve Gibson and chief executive Neil Bausor, with an initial round of transfer talks taking place in the immediate aftermath of his appointment last month.
“We are working towards January, but that is not just something that has started this week,” he said. “We have been working ever since I joined the club.
“We want to have the best squad and in January, we will look and if we decide we need some players, they will come. But we will only do something if we decide that the players who can come are better than the players that are already here.”
Williams (groin), Jonathan Woodgate (thigh) and Mustapha Carayol (groin) are all expected to miss Thursday’s game, with the latter still being assessed after he was withdrawn in the first half of Saturday’s win at The New Den.
“He (Carayol) is still working with the doctors at the moment,” said Karanka. “He hasn’t trained, but we don’t know quite how serious the problem is yet. He is an important player for us, but the team is the most important thing and whoever is selected to play in Muzzy’s position will be a very good player as well.
“(Emmanuel) Ledesma played in that position at Millwall, scored and was named man of the match. So we have players who can come in and do well.”
Grant Leadbitter is also a doubt for Boxing Day as he is still to return to training after missing the Millwall game because of an illness.