At the start of the season, had you offered any Liverpool fan a home game against an already-relegated side going into the final weekend of the Premier League season, knowing a win will guarantee Champions League football next season, they would have taken that without a second thought.
That is the exact situation that they find themselves in, and the Reds need to take full advantage.
Home games against the lesser sides are the reason that Liverpool did not push Chelsea for the title this season, having started the campaign so well. Ultimately, they might have fallen short anyway given the relentless nature of Chelsea’s charge to the top, but gaining all three points against teams like Crystal Palace and Bournemouth would have made a huge difference.
Liverpool have beaten the likes of Hull (6-1) and Stoke (4-1) at Anfield this season, so it is not a task that should daunt them really, but the Reds need a result closer to those games than those they have struggled in against the Teesside club.
Last week’s demolition of West Ham at the London Stadium, with Daniel Sturridge fully firing and Philippe Coutinho back at the top of his game, showed that Liverpool are in decent form. Play like that again, and Middlesbrough simply will not have a hope of competing. There is a reason that they have been relegated.
Jurgen Klopp is likely to field the same eleven that started against West Ham last time out, with Roberto Firmino still not back in team training. The Brazilian will probably replace Divock Origi in the line-up if he passes a fitness test tomorrow, but at the moment is more likely to have to come off the bench.
For Middlesbrough, there is no real pressure. They have looked like heading straight back down to the Championship for a while, and it was confirmed when they lost 3-0 to Chelsea a couple of weeks ago. They have nothing to play for, and should Liverpool go ahead, they are unlikely to mount any great fight-back. Like against West Ham, the first goal will be all-important.
There are often strange results on the final day, but Liverpool will be hoping they do not succumb to one.
“The best thing would be 4-0 after two minutes, but it’s not possible!” Jurgen Klopp said at his press conference today.
“We have to be ready for a football game,” he added.
“Everything we get on Sunday, we have to take, make the best of it”.
The importance of the Champions League is obvious to Liverpool; being able to attract the best players with the lure of the best club competition in the world and the extra money made available is vital to their future. Getting a result this weekend could shape the future squad for years to come.
Klopp said, “We are a club without financial problems. We’re in a good situation. We have money to spend, but it makes sense to think how we do it.
“After Sunday, we have a long flight to Australia (for a post-season game against Sydney FC) so then I’ll think about everything”.
The German also reiterated his previous comments about being in the elite competition, saying, “If Champions League is the only reason [why a player wants to come to Liverpool] and we want him to come, it makes no sense”.
Regardless of what Klopp says in public, privately he must accept that achieving Champions League status is massively important in terms of the players Liverpool can attract.
Win on Sunday, and it could be a very interesting summer for the Red half of Merseyside. Anything other than a win would be unthinkable.
WHEN DOES THE GAME KICK OFF?
The match starts at 15:00 GMT and is live on Sky Sports. Manchester City’s game against Watford is also being shown on Sky Sports: for Liverpool to finish third, they would have to win by four goals and hope that Manchester City draw (if City were to lose, a win of any kind would be sufficient).
Arsenal, who are playing at home against Everton, require Liverpool to drop points and themselves to win for them to come fourth. All the Premier League games start at the same time.
WHO IS THE REFEREE?
Martin Atkinson – widely regarded as the best official left in the Premier League following Mark Clattenburg’s departure, Atkinson has produced 153 yellow cards and three reds in his 43 appearances this season.
He has refereed Liverpool only once so far in the league, the 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea, and also saw them lose in the EFL Cup semi-final second leg against Southampton in January, where it finished 1-0 to the away side.
Atkinson refereed Middlesbrough when they beat fellow relegated North-East side Sunderland 2-1 at the Stadium of Light back in August, saw them lose 3-1 at home to West Ham in January, and most recently oversaw their 0-0 draw with Burnley at the Riverside.
Liverpool have won eight of their last ten games at Anfield on the final day of the Premier League season, drawing the other two, whilst Middlesbrough have lost five out of their last six top-flight away games on the final day.
Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Can, Lallana, Wijnaldum, Coutinho; Origi, Sturridge
Middlesbrough: Guzan; Fabio, Chambers, Gibson, Friend; Forshaw, de Roon, Clayton, Downing; Bamford, Negredo
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