Liverpool vs Middlesbrough – Match Preview

20 May 2017 | 7:53 am

Liverpool vs Middlesbrough – Match Preview

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There is only one thing left to sort out on the final day of the Premier League season and that is who takes the final two Champions League places. Manchester City are all but confirmed to be taking one of them, unless something spectacular happens on Sunday. Liverpool are in pole position to take the other remaining spot. If the Reds beat Middlesbrough at Anfield, they will finish in the top four and return to the Champions League next season. They will be expecting to finish the job, but they have struggled against the bottom-half teams during this campaign and there will be some fears within the fan-base that they could fall at the final hurdle this weekend.

Liverpool are currently in fourth position and they could move as high as third on the final day. They have been in the top four for most of the season and it would be cruel if they fell out on Sunday. Jurgen Klopp has made them one of the best teams to watch in the Premier League this season and they will be confident of finishing the job against already-relegated Middlesbrough. The Reds have won four of their last six matches and come into the match in good form. Anything can happen on the final day, but Liverpool will be extremely confident of clinching Champions League qualification.

It has been a campaign to forget for the visitors as they have been relegated straight back to the second tier. Aitor Karanka made them tough to beat during the opening months, but his side lacked ideas in attack, which has ultimately cost them. The managerial change didn’t have much of an effect and they have shown little fight during the last two months of the season. They have scored only 27 times during the league season and that is currently the lowest of any team. Boro will be hoping to finish on a positive note and spoil the party on Sunday. It will be a difficult ask, but they will be playing without pressure and that could prove to be dangerous for Liverpool.

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Liverpool have kept three clean sheets in their last three matches and will be confident of keeping another on Sunday against the league’s worst attack.

Middlesbrough have lost four of their last five matches without scoring a goal.

Key Men

Coutinho

The Brazilian was excellent against West Ham, delivering a performance that showed that he is one of the best players in the league. His contribution of 12 goals and seven assists is a great total for the season, especially when his injuries are taken into consideration. Although he has been linked with Barcelona, Liverpool will be confident of keeping him this summer and build the team around him as they plan to push on to challenge for the title next season. He has improved a lot since Jurgen Klopp was appointed as manager and it is the right environment for him to continue his development. Middlesbrough can be difficult to break down if they play well and Liverpool will need Coutinho to play well this weekend. They can’t afford for nerves to become a factor and will be looking to get the game won as early as possible. On his day, the Brazilian can be devastating and possesses the technical abilty to win matches on his own. The Reds won’t be relying on him this weekend, but he is certainly the player that will worry Middlesbrough the most.

Gibson

There have been few players to emerge with credit from Middlesbrough’s poor season, but Ben Gibson has been one of them. The centre-back has been called up to the England squad and performed consistently in the middle of the Boro defence. They will want to keep hold of him this summer, but it will be extremely difficult as he has proven that he is good enough for the top level. If he has serious England ambitions, he needs to be playing in the Premier League to achieve them. At the age of 24, he has the potential to develop into an excellent ball-playing centre-half and there will be a lot of clubs looking to sign him once the season finishes. Liverpool are huge favourites to win this weekend and Middlesbrough will need their defence to be at it’s resolute best if they are to get anything out of the game. With one eye on the transfer window, Gibson will want to end the season with a good performance and he could have a key role to play on Sunday.

Team News

Roberto Firmino is a doubt for this weekend after missing out on the trip to West Ham with a knock. Sadio Mane and Jordan Henderson won’t be able to return for the final match of the season. Danny Ings also remains on the treatment table.

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Victor Valdes, Gaston Ramirez and Daniel Ayala all require late fitness tests to prove they are ready to play a part in this fixture.

Verdict

This will be the most watched fixture this weekend and Liverpool have to win to confirm their place in the Champions League. They have slipped up at times this season in matches that they shouldn’t have, but it is difficult to see them making the same mistake against Middlesbrough. Jurgen Klopp will have them well prepared on Sunday as he will know the importance of making the top four in terms of his progression plan. It won’t be as easy as it looks on paper, but the Reds should take the three points and clinch a top four finish on the final.

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