The battle lines in the race for the final Champions League places have been drawn and Liverpool know that they just have to match the result of Arsenal to qualify for next seasons premier European club competition. To get over the line they will have to make sure they do not fall at the final hurdle as they play host to an already relegated Middlesbrough at Anfield.
Liverpool’s season will simply be defined by whether or not they can qualify for the top four and with it all in their own hands they will only have themselves to blame should they slip up against Steve Agnew’s side. But after an impressive 4-0 win over West Ham this time last week their tails will certainly be up as we go into this all important encounter.
Philippe Coutinho rightfully took all the plaudits last week as he made the first and then helped himself to a brace of goals against the hapless Hammers, That performance will of course piqued the interest of the likes of Barcelona as they look to prepare a Summer move for the Brazilian international.
If Barcelona come calling then even Champions League football next season might not be enough to stop Coutinho moving to the Nou Camp, should the Merseyside outfit have to make do with the European action on a Thursday then it of course becomes even harder to stop the Catalan giants from trying to acquire the services of the former Inter Milan midfielder,
One player who could very well be making his last appearance for the club regardless of where they finish in the league is that of Daniel Sturridge. The England international opened the scoring at the London Stadium last Sunday and although there is no doubting his talents, his injury record will be the one thing that goes against him and it is those fitness concerns which may well finally push him out of the exit door.
Liverpool cannot afford any sentiment though as they need to get the job done this afternoon, whether Sturridge has done enough to warrant a starting berth today after his performance against West Ham remains to be seen but you would imagine that he will play some part in Liverpool’s attack line later today.
As for Middlesbrough well there is little to write about not just today but for the whole season, the league’s lowest goalscorers with 27 have simply been nowhere good enough in front of goal and that is the main reason as to why they are returning back down to the EFL Championship at the first time of asking. When you put it into context, Harry Kane has scored 26 goals by himself this season.
Aitor Karanka’s safety first tactics started brightly but as the months progressed the string of defeats albeit close was always going to work against them as they slipped down the league table. It was a slide they failed to arrest and by the time Karanka was sacked in March the rot had already set in leaving the next incumbent with too much to do.
They have been better since Agnew took caretaker charge but they made small steps when giant leaps were needed, comapre then to the likes of Swansea and Hull who rolled the dice and the performances have been night and day. Then again Agnew you could argue did not have enough time to things around.
Last time out they ended their home campaign with a 2-1 defeat to Southampton at the Riverside Stadium, they unfortunately could not give their own fans a decent send off as they were 2-0 down before Patrick Bamford got something of a rarity that being not just a goal for Middlesbrough but a goal for himself.
Is there set to be one last twist in the tale this afternoon, Middlesbrough have nothing to play for but they would love nothing more than to spoil Liverpool’s party. That said I cannot see Liverpool throwing away this one, it has the air of a cup final and although there is no physical silverware at stake it will feel like winning a trophy should they get the job done as expected. Home win and a return of those European nights at Anfield.