Liverpool vs Middlesbrough Preview

Liverpool need maximum points against already-relegated Middlesbrough to secure a top-four spot
Liverpool need maximum points against already-relegated Middlesbrough to secure a top-four spot.
English Premier League | Sunday 21 May | Anfield | 16:00

Liverpool will be looking to secure three points against already-relegated Middlesbrough at Anfield on Sunday, which will see Jurgen Klopp’s side secure a top-four spot and return to the Champions League for the first time in three seasons.

To Win
Liverpool 1/6
Draw 6/1
Middlesbrough 15/1

Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp’s side come into this matchup off a resounding 4-0 victory at West Ham last Sunday. Philippe Coutinho gave a stunning performance in that game, grabbing two goals and an assist. That was Liverpool’s 21st league win of the season and victory over already-relegated Middlesbrough will secure Champions League football next term. Although they are overwhelming favourites to win that tie, Klopp has warned his players not to assume Champions League football is theirs. 

"I've been in the business long enough to know the biggest mistake is counting points before you have them," Klopp said after the 4-0 win at West Ham.

"We won't do this. The first sentence the boys said in the dressing room - and I didn't have to say it - was 'one more game'. We want this Champions League position." 

Liverpool are unbeaten in three Premier League matches, winning twice. However, both those wins have come on the road, with the Reds winless in their last three games at Anfield. Klopp’s side have collected just two points from their last three home games, losing to Crystal Palace and drawing with Bournemouth and Southampton. Prior to that, the Reds had won four in a row at Anfield, beating Tottenham, Arsenal, Burnley and Everton. 

Last season, Liverpool were 45 minutes away from qualifying for the Champions League, but they buckled under the pressure in the Europa League final against Sevilla. Klopp’s side also lost a League Cup final, while the FA Cup semi-final the year before ended in defeat by Aston Villa. Steven Gerrard’s final games of the season were lost to Crystal Palace and Stoke in embarrassing fashion. 

Klopp’s side have struggled to turn up when it really matters. However, with this being a must-win game, along with home advantage and the fact that Boro are already relegated, it’s fair to say Liverpool are expected to get the job done. A top-four finish is so important for the Reds if they want to be able to attract top quality signings and keep hold of Coutinho, who is reportedly on Barcelona's radar.



Middlesbrough

Already-relegated Middlesbrough suffered their 19th loss of the season as their final home game against Southampton ended in a 2-1 defeat last Saturday.

Steve Agnew said after the match: “It was a game where we wanted to finish strongly for our supporters and obviously going a goal behind in a first half performance where we didn’t show any real threat, that was disappointing going into half time.

“The goal comes at a bad time and we’re all disappointed when the second goal goes in it’s a real test of character for the players who’ve had a very, very difficult season.

Agnew's side have little to play for against Liverpool except professional pride and to try to end a woeful run of one Premier League victory in 20 games. Agnew will be hoping his troops can restore some pride and give the Boro fans something to shout about following a miserable year.

No team have won fewer games than Middlesbrough have this season. In 37 games, Boro have won only five times, most recently at home to Sunderland last month. After their 3-0 win over Swansea in December, they failed to win in the following 16 league games. That streak saw the side earn only six points and score seven goals. Unable to win matches against the likes of Burnley, Watford, Crystal Palace, Swansea, Hull and Bournemouth, that streak was crucial to Middlesbrough's relegation.

Failing to score goals has been Boro’s biggest issue this season, with 26 goals scored in 36 games. In the 37 games, they failed to score in 19 of those matches. Alvaro Negredo is the team's top-scorer this season with nine goals. No other Middlesbrough player has reached five goals in the league this season.

As bad as Boro have been at scoring goals this season, their increasing defensive frailty in the second half of the campaign is also an important a factor in their relegation. Agnew's side have conceded 30 times since Christmas out of a total of 50 for the season so far. 

Probable line-ups:

Liverpool: 4-4-2
Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Lallana, Can, Wijnaldum, Coutinho; Origi, Sturridge. 

Middlesbrough: 4-3-3
Guzan; Fabio, Chambers, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Forshaw, De Roon; Downing, Bamford, Negredo.

Prediction: Coutinho to Score Anytime (1/1)
This is a must-win game for Liverpool and I’m confident they’ll get the victory they need to secure a top-four spot. Coutinho was at his majestic best last weekend and I fancy him to get on the scoresheet. I’m going for Coutinho to Score Anytime at even money.


Written by Chad Nagel