Liverpool’s final game of the 2016/17 season is in front of their own fans at Anfield, knowing a win against already relegated Middlesbrough will be enough to see them into the top four and with it securing qualification to next year’s Champions League. But it won’t be an easy game, so here are the key battles that the Reds need to win to see off their opposition.
Dejan Lovren vs Alvaro Negredo
If Middlesbrough are going to any pose any threat to the Reds on the counter-attack, it’s going to come through this man. Negredo is the club’s top scorer, scoring over a third of their league goals, and he’s also their highest assister with four. Whilst he’s unlikely to have the pace to cause Liverpool problems in behind, he could prove a serious aerial threat, which is where Lovren will have to be at his best to ensure Negredo doesn’t spoil the party.
Philippe Coutinho vs Adam Clayton
Coutinho is Liverpool’s lynchpin. We know Boro are likely to sit deep and ask Liverpool to break them down, and Coutinho is the man most critical to ensuring that Liverpool do get some success in breaking through Boro’s defensive midfield. Dictating from deep, or pushing forwards, either way Coutinho’s biggest opposition is likely to be Clayton, who is Boro’s most defensive midfielder. With 10 bookings to his name this season, he won’t be opposed to dirty tactics to stopping the little magician, but he’s also, along with teammate De Roon, one of the most dribbled past players in the league (1.6 per game for Clayton, 2.2 for De Roon). So Coutinho may get some serious joy.
Daniel Sturridge vs Calum Chambers
I’m a huge fan of Ben Gibson, Chambers’ centre-back partner, but Chambers is the experienced head in this one and he has to be the one taking responsibility for the extremely dangerous Daniel Sturridge. If Sturridge is allowed to run riot the way he did against West Ham, then Boro will be in serious trouble. But if Chambers is able to shackle our star striker, then Liverpool might find breaking them down very difficult.