The end of the season looms upon us, combined with that awful, empty ‘footballess’ period of space and time. Weekends,are not looked forward to the same way and only Liverpool matches could get us out of bed after a night out, good luck without it.
Before all that descends upon on us, we now look to the last home game of the season against Middlesbrough. Whilst far from being a world beating fixture, we will all be of mixed feeling going into this one.
After hammering West Ham at their new vacuum of a stadium, we are left with a much-needed confidence boost towards our goal of a top four finish in this very exciting, yet nerve wracking, Champions League race.
The absence of Roberto Firmino didn’t seem to worry the consensus of social media as it opened the much-needed space for Daniel Sturridge.
Now like most Reds, I was crying out for the man himself, his ability and of course the infamous dance celebration. I have always loved seeing Sturridge play his ‘off the shoulder’ style with such speed and efficiency. Divock Origi has been going through a much unwanted dip in form, and without the main men of Firmino and Sadio Man, it has opened up to a new switch up in formation and a place for the attacking venom of Sturridge’s left boot to cause havoc for Boro’ as it did against West Ham.
Sturridge needs to continue this run of form against Middlesbrough and grab a few goals. Maybe then he will stay next season. The only issue with Sturridge, currently, besides fitness… is that once Mane returns, he loses the positional ability to drift out onto the flanks whilst Origi stays central and otherwise struggles to adapt to the current way that Klopp wants us to play.
Nostalgia of that amazing partnership in the 13/14 season between Sturridge and Luis Suarez makes us all want him on the pitch as much as possible as we know what he can do and after all he may not be here next season.
On to the team playing this Sunday, I would love to see Sturridge start up top again with Origi to head the 4-4-2 attacking diamond as they showed great promise as an attacking partnership at the London Stadium. The most important part of the changes made against West Ham was the position change of Philipple Coutinho. Dropping into the No.8 role allowed his creativity to shine and effectively run the game. I cannot physically see any reason for this not to be replicated this week against Middlesbrough as it worked so well and will be crucial to stretching and splitting their back four as no doubt they will play in a tight and compact formation.
In the centre of the park, Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can had a quiet game. Gini’s superb outside of the foot volley onto the crossbar was the only highlight to note. He reportedly won only 33% of duels faced and had the fewest touches of the game with 53 compared to Can, who had 90.
This isn’t something that should worry us too much as a defensive midfield role shouldn’t require all the limelight and they allowed the ‘Little Magician’ space to control the centre of the park alongside Adam Lallana in that No.8 position. The change to 4-4-2 diamond formation proved to be a brilliant decision by Klopp, who has been criticised for his over reliance on the 4-3-3 formation, as it sped up the inter-passing between the midfield and attacking players and made width no longer an issue and this must be utilised again against Middlesbrough.
The full-backs, James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne, struggled to impose themselves on Sunday, not that it made such a difference to the game yet Manuel Lanzini gave Clyne a run for his money in the opening 20 minutes.
I struggled to notice Milner throughout the first half and that sums up their lack of attacking contribution, given the pace of the game. Whilst being critical of Milner, we still must remember that he isn’t a left back to start with and has made a very good go at the position to be a starter week after week ahead of the faster, yet more risky choice of Alberto Moreno. That probably explains why Klopp favours Milner. Clyne is a superb defensive full-back but as we’ve been saying for a while; he needs to be more attacking in his game. Middlesbrough is as good as any opportunity for the full backs to throw themselves down the wings offering us the width we need to break down teams that have 10 men behind the ball as in recent weeks and the story of the season is that we have lacked width and that is why Jurgen Klopp’s men have ultimately fallen short in many matches against teams in the bottom half of the table.
Defensive issues have plagued the Reds this season, from set pieces to general lack of confidence. Yet with Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren having four clean sheets in five games, that surely means that this corner has been turned.
I hope this is the case, yet even against West Ham, I found myself shouting obscenities at Lovren’s idleness when Andrew Ayew nearly made it 1-1. The fact that the attacker hit the upright not once, but twice shows that luck was on our side.
The strong links to Southampton’s: Virgil Van Dijk bring some comfort to the fan base knowing that if we sign such a consistent centre half during the summer window, for whatever the price, it will be worth it. I’d stay with the same defensive line up as against West Ham since we cannot afford to change it unless any injuries between now and Sunday. Touch wood, now.
A goalkeeper myself, not a very good one, I have always stuck by Simon Mignolet throughout his time at Anfield ever since the penalty double save against Stoke on his debut. Whilst patchy in the first half of the season, I believe the keeper has responded perfectly to the criticism and stepped up his game to beat the younger Loris Karius to be first choice Goalkeeper. Mignolet has won us the three points the last few games on the road. Even at West Ham he made an important save against (I believe) Feghouli’s effort, which he saw late. He must start between the sticks against Middlesbrough, it’s a no brainer. Maybe we will see more of Karius next season since we will be playing European football, whether Europa League or Champions league but for now Simon Mignolet remains our No.1 and in his current form, there’s no reason to worry.
Confidence is a must for players and the crowd. End of the season matches, no matter the opposition must always end the campaign with a bang. The atmosphere the last few home games has been lacking in enthusiasm and that is understandable. Anfield in recent weeks has not been the fortress we’d have wanted it to be with results against Bournemouth, Palace and Southampton. Anyway, enough negativity… I predict 3-0 to the Reds in a somewhat suitable end to the season with Tuesday nights Champions League football assured.
As for Middlesbrough… coming into the Premier League after gaining promotion from the championship I looked towards them as one to be avoiding immediate relegation. Considering the signings made last summer such as Victor Valdes, Brad Guzan, Calum Chambers and Alvaro Negredo. I expected the added experience to weigh in their favour, however, they have been relegated. Although this should be our ticket to Champions League football next season, “we should never count our points before we have them” as said by Klopp himself post-match on Sunday. As proven by Sunderland, being relegated could lift the pressure on them and they might want to create an upset for the Reds. Either that or like every Liverpool fan hopes; they will be on the beach against us and as long as the reds perform as they did whilst destroying Slavan Bilic’s demoralised West Ham we should be home and dry… having said that I imagine we all will need to touch wood as a nervy weekend fixture approaches, West Ham was our biggest game of the season, however with Arsenal in touching distance of stealing our champions league spot, it’s a must win for the Mighty Reds! Of course, I’m fairly confident as every fan should be and of course ‘Up the Reds’.