20 May 2017

Liverpool v Middlesbrough 05.21.17

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (a) 12.14.16
2-2 Liverpool pens (h; League Cup) 09.23.14
0-2 Boro (a) 02.28.09
2-1 Liverpool (h) 08.23.08

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-0 West Ham (a); 0-0 Southampton (h); 1-0 Watford (a)
Boro: 1-2 Southampton (h); 0-3 Chelsea (a); 2-2 City (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 13; Coutinho 12; Firmino 11; Lallana, Milner, Origi 7; Can, Wijnaldum 5; Sturridge 3; Lovren 2; Henderson, Matip 1
Boro: Negredo 9; de Roon, Stuani 4; Ramirez 2; Ayala, Bamford, Chambers, Downing, Gestede, Gibson, Leadbitter 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Wijnaldum Can Coutinho
Sturridge Firmino

It's the last game of the season. And if Liverpool win it, they'll be in next season's Champions League. One match that could, without exaggeration, change the club's fortunes.

Just like the last match of last season.

No pressure, guys.

Oh, and, 0-0 Southampton, 1-2 Palace, 2-2 Bournemouth. Liverpool haven't won at home since April 1. They've won all four away games, surprisingly enough, but none at Anfield. Against sides who are currently 8th, 10th, and 13th.

At least Boro are decidedly worse than those three sides. Although it's not as if that's mattered much to this Liverpool side.

Roberto Firmino's at least in individual training, if not full team training, although that's been the case for more than a month now. And if he's available I suspect he'll replace Origi, although I'm not really bothered which of them starts; Origi did well with Sturridge last week and both can be valuable in changing tenor and tempo off the bench. The more important question is whether Liverpool sticks with the 4-4-2 diamond formation or reverts to 4-3-3.

Whether it's Firmino or Origi, I'm of an "if it ain't broke..." mind. Sure, it was only one game. But it was also the first time that Liverpool scored four goals in 2017. Scoring four goals, even if Liverpool had some fortune and some help, was good and fun. I'd recommend Liverpool do it again. This formation seems a far likelier proposition than any personnel variation of the 4-3-3 that Liverpool have deployed in recent months. But having Sturridge's movement up front, whether 4-3-3 or 4-Diamond-2, may well be more important as the formation, although I'll continue to maintain he's had his best moments at the club with a strike partner.

Meanwhile, Middlesbrough have won just one league match in 2017. One. Of 18, with seven draws and 11 losses. It was three weeks ago: 1-0, at home, against the only side lower than they are in the table. Boro have not been good this season. They are especially bad in attack, with only one player scoring more than four goals this season. Their 27 goals are the lowest in the division, barely behind Sunderland but well behind everyone else. They will be deservedly relegated.

That said, they can be a reasonably competent defensive side. They've conceded 50 goals, only eight more than Liverpool. Ten sides have conceded more, and their two other relegation compatriots have conceded 64 and 73. Five of Boro's seven 2017 league draws have finished 0-0. But five of those seven draws also came at home; Boro's 2017 away record is 2D-6L, two goals scored and 15 conceded.

Tomorrow's XI will probably be the same that lost 1-2 against Southampton last week. Guzan; Fabio, Chambers, Gibson, Friend; de Roon, Clayton, Forshaw; Bamford, Negredo, Downing. Victor Valdes and Gaston Ramirez are absent, while ex-Liverpool player Danny Ayala is doubtful. Maybe Adam Traore starts instead of Downing or Bamford; maybe Dimi Konstantopoulous starts instead of Brad Guzan – it's hard to be worse than Guzan, and I'm still comfortable writing that knowing how many opposition keepers have turned into brick walls against Liverpool.

Nonetheless, Gibson and Chambers can defend quite well. Clayton, de Roon, and Forshaw will hustle, bustle, and harry in their own half. And Boro will hope that Negredo can pull a rabbit from his hat at the other half maybe once or so. Or maybe Downing gets a set play. Or maybe Liverpool does a Liverpool.

So it's up to Liverpool. At home. Under an indescribable amount of pressure. Against a bottom three side who'll look to do nothing but defend and stifle and defend.

It, admittedly, is not my favorite scenario. And I cannot help but remind that Middlesbrough are the only relegated side that Liverpool haven't dropped points against.

But even though I can't help thinking about that, Liverpool can. Liverpool know what they need to do; the entire season's prepared for and led to this moment, this match, and they're coming off of an incredibly encouraging and vital result. And Liverpool are more than capable of doing it.


Dan said...

Nate - Thanks as always for another year of fantastic writing. While not in our nature, i'd encourage all of us to take Klopp's advice and go into tomorrow's match with confidence instead of fear. The boys are ready for this, and we should feel better of our odds of finishing 3rd than fifth!

Anonymous said...

"It's hard to be worse that Guzan." Hahahahaha. Truer words were never written.

It's a game tailor made for Sturridge. Constantly changing the point of attack, probing for weaknesses, finding the space 🚀 in the channels, and both behind and in front of that defense.

The crowd should be in the mood to hoot and holler and give it, but good, to Stewie after shushing the Kop that time.

Expecting a big win with continuous and sustained pressure for the entire 90 minutes. 4th place at a minimum and hopeful, but not expectant of a 3rd place finish. Maybe Harry the Hornet can put City off their game?