Aitor Karanka says Kenneth Omeruo needs to rediscover his top form if he’s to reclaim his place in Boro’s starting line-up.
The Nigeria international has struggled to establish himself in the first team this season.
Ben Gibson and Dani Ayala were Karanka’s preferred pairing at the start of the year while Tomas Kalas got the nod on Tuesday night to partner Gibson against Millwall.
Omeruo has been involved, most recently at Sheffield Wednesday last weekend, but it’s fair to say he hasn’t achieved the level of consistency he maintained during his first Boro loan spell last season.
Karanka, however, fully expects the Chelsea defender to come good and denies he’s suffering the after effects of his World Cup quest in Brazil.
“Both Tomas and Ben are playing really well,” said the Boro boss. “I am very pleased with Ken because he is a special player for me because he came here last season and he improved a lot.
“This season he is not at the same level and when you are not at your best level there are other players ready to play.
“But we have two months in front of us and all of the players are going to be very important.
“I hope Dani Ayala is with us as soon as possible so we arrive at the key moment in the season with the whole squad ready to play.”
Asked if Omeruo was suffering from World Cup burn-out, Karanka added: “In the first game at home this season Ken came from the bench because Gibson got injured and he played without a warm-up and he was one of the best players so I don’t think that was the problem because he is strong.
“But he has to be at his best like the other players because if he is not at his best then I’ve got Tomas, who is now at his best, and Gibbo this season has been amazing, I am very pleased with him.”
Ayala is expected to return from his thigh strain in the next week or two.