Liverpool go into the final day of the season with Champions League football on the line and nothing less than a win against relegated Middlesbrough would do for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
It all comes down to Sunday for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp. Much sought-after Champions League football is on the line with Manchester City and Arsenal competing with the Reds for the remaining two spots in the Top 4.
With an easy run of games in the final two months of the league season, Liverpool were expected to comfortably seal their place over the likes of City, United and Arsenal, all of whom had a tough run-in.
But dropped points against Palace, Southampton and Leicester and a terrific run of form for the Citizens and the Gunners meant the fate of Top 4 would be dragged into the final day of the season.
On paper, Liverpool should do the job given they’re facing an already relegated Middlesbrough while Arsenal have a much tougher test of Everton to get over the line. But the Reds’ poor form against sides placed in the bottom half of the table has left fans understandably anxious going into the final game of the season.
Team News and Tactics
When asked about the prospect of Champions League football with victory at home against Middlesbrough, Klopp was quick to point out that nothing was a certainty in football. And that will be a good attitude to carry forward for the Reds going into Sunday.
There have been lot of talks surrounding Klopp looking to continue with the same line-up that took the field against West Ham United. The Reds adopted a 4-4-2 diamond with Coutinho playing behind Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi.
The move paid rich dividends as the trio got involved in all of the Reds goals as they romped to a 4-0 success at the London Stadium. And couple of the benefactors of the formation were Sturridge and Coutinho.
The Brazilian dropping behind the strikers after spending much of this season on the flanks delivered a stellar performance. Roberto Firmino although having returned to training could yet remain on the bench as the boss looks to continue with the 4-4-2 formation.
There are no other injury developments with Jordan Henderson’s return still unknown and Sadio Mane yet to return to training. It’ll be interesting to see if Klopp tinkers with the formation going into a game of such titanic importance for the Reds.
Possible Starting XI (4-4-2): Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Lallana, Can, Wijnaldum, Coutinho; Sturridge, Origi.
Boro, for all their flaws, have shown they can frustrate big sides this season. They’ve drawn twice with Manchester City and held Arsenal to a 0-0 at the Emirates Stadium.
If they can dig in at Anfield—where Liverpool have failed to win any of their last three games—then perhaps they can make things interesting in the scheme of things for the Top 4.
But Liverpool have performed well when under pressure this term and you sense the iconic stadium will be a cauldron of noise for this one. Should the Reds score early, as they did against West Ham a week ago, they should cruise to a comprehensive triumph.
With a final Premier League game before dropping down to the Championship, Steve Agnew will look to do so with pride and in Stewart Downing’s words, ruin Liverpool’s dreams of Champions League football for next season.
The boss is without Daniel Ayala, Victor Valdes and Gaston Ramirez due to injury and is expected to tinker with his squad a bit in a bid put out a fresh XI on Sunday capable of inflicting damage at Anfield.
Boro have deployed a 4-3-3 for large parts of this season and barring glaring last minute injury exclusions, there is no reason that should change. While the goals have been hard to come by the, they have managed to remain compact at the back as a result of the system and Agnew is set to carry on with that against Liverpool.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): Guzan; Da Silva, Chambers, Gibson, Friend; De Roon, Clayton, Forshaw; Bamford, Negredo, Downing.
- Liverpool’s last home defeat against Middlesbrough was in March 1976, when Jack Charlton’s team won 2-0 with goals from Terry Cooper and John Hickton.
- The Reds have won each of their last four Premier League contests against Middlesbrough at Anfield, scoring at least two goals on each occasion.
- Boro’s only victory in the last 11 league and cup meetings was 2-0 at the Riverside in February 2009.
- The Reds already have 73 points – no team has ever finished outside the Premier League top four with a total that high.
- Liverpool can end up in the top four of the Premier League for only the second time in the last eight seasons.
Player to watch out for
Liverpool FC: Philippe Coutinho
There’s no doubting the Brazilian’s credentials when he is at his confident best and the 24-year-old must be absolutely buzzing with his goal-scoring exploits off-late. Should the Reds force control of the game early on in the game with a goal, the stage is well set for a Coutinho masterclass.
The midfielder scored a brace last week and with Klopp potentially playing in the attacking midfielder role once again, Liverpool will turn towards him for the crucial lock-picking passes once again against a defensively resilient Boro.
Liverpool 2-0 Middlesbrough
The Reds did beat Boro at the Riverside early on in the season with an impressive display but there still will be quite a few nerves going into this tie. Granted, the Reds managed to ease them with last week’s demolition of West Ham United but this Liverpool side have had varied troubles against compact and defensively strong teams.
Klopp’s side will have to break the deadlock as early in the game as possible else Anfield could brace itself for an edgy evening with their Top 4 hopes lying on the balance. The fans and the boss will turn to their star players on Sunday to turn up the heat on Boro.