Liverpool need a win to be assured of the Champions League - and they shouldn't have too many problems against Middlesbrough. Michael Cox looks at the tactics, and Alan Thompson assesses the betting...
"Since Karanka’s departure Middlesbrough have been much more open, and allowed the opposition more chances."
Liverpool v Middlesbrough
Live on Sky Sports 1
Match Odds: Liverpool [1.15], Middlesbrough [30.0], The Draw [9.8].
The final day of the 2016/17 Premier League campaign is all about the race for the Champions League places, and all the focus will be on Liverpool's meeting with Middlesbrough. If Jurgen Klopp's side collect three points, they will guarantee a Champions League position ahead of Arsenal, whose result at Everton would become irrelevant.
Liverpool have a one-point lead over the Gunners heading into the final day, and it's difficult to imagine a simpler task on their final day of the campaign. Middlesbrough have been relegated for a couple of weeks, and while Liverpool have often struggled in these seemingly simple matches at home to weaker sides, they surely won't slip up against a side with absolutely nothing to play for. Besides, while Middlesbrough were a solid defensive side under former boss Aitor Karanka, they're less impressive with Steve Agnew in charge, and Liverpool's task here could be very simple.
It's also worth remembering that Liverpool could even clinch third spot here, although this relies on Manchester City failing to win against a Watford side that have lost their last five games and recently announced manager Walter Mazzarri will be leaving. Still, it's something to consider here - a three-goal Liverpool victory, combined with a City draw, would be enough. There's even the remote possibility of a play-off to separate third and fourth place, should Liverpool and City end up on the same number of points with equal goals scored and conceded.
Klopp is likely to stick with the starting XI that demolished West Ham United last weekend, which would probably mean him also continuing with his diamond midfield. This featured Adam Lallana playing as a number 10 behind Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino (or Divock Origi), with Coutinho hugely impressive tucked into a deeper, centre-left role. Georginio Wijnaldum will play alongside him, with Emre Can sitting deep.
Jordan Henderson has an outside chance of a return, but Klopp will probably keep the same starting XI. Sturridge and Firmino seemed to work nicely as a forward duo, with Sturridge speeding into the channels and Firmino dropping a little deeper.
The problem with the diamond formation, of course, is the lack of width. James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne will have to fly forward regularly from full-back to stretch the play, and this is likely to push back Middlesbrough's wide players, probably Stewart Downing and Adama Traore.
This will have the effect of leaving Alvaro Negredo completely isolated, which has been a regular problem for Middlesbrough this season - the Spaniard can hold up the ball reasonably well, but he lacks speed and isn't able to turn defences. He really needs to be operating inside the opposition penalty box, which means this defensive-minded Middlesbrough side doesn't really suit him.
With Maarten De Roon, Adam Clayton and Adam Forshaw protecting the back four, it should be Emre Can who is allowed the most time on the ball here, and he must play good positive passes into the attacking third for Liverpool to play their quick passing combinations.
Middlesbrough's backline is generally well-organised, but since Karanka's departure they've been much more open, and allowed the opposition more chances. In truth, it's difficult to see Liverpool not scoring at least a couple of goals here, and Middlesbrough don't really have the capacity to create enough chances themselves. This seems like an easy home win, and I'll back a 3-0 at [7.0].
The Betfair Trader's View - Alan Thompson
Jurgen Klopp’s side know if they can beat an already relegated side at home on the final day of the campaign, they will secure a Champions League spot. I am sure that is a position the majority of clubs in the Premier League would have gladly accepted if offered last August. The market makers certainly think it is a very strong position and make them as short as [1.15] to win on Sunday.
The relegated side who stand in their way is Middlesbrough, who’s away record is abysmal. They have scored just twice in their last six, conceded 11 in their last three, haven’t won since August and failed to score in nine of their last 11 away league matches.
Liverpool are having to go to the final game of the season as they have failed to win any of their last three at home against Bournemouth (2-2), Crystal Palace (1-2) and Southampton (0-0) and stranger things have happened in the Premier League but you really have to stretch the imagination a bit to see Middlesbrough getting anything from the game. This should be a formality for a strong Liverpool side, an early goal and I think it really could be anything, but the longer the game stays 0-0 the more pressure the home side will feel.
Liverpool are having to give up 2.25 goals on the handicap, I can’t see Middlesbrough registering on the score sheet. Therefore, I will take on the higher Liverpool wins to nil and split my stake backing Liverpool to win 2-0 at [7.0] and 3-0 at [7.0] in the Correct Score market, giving dutched odds of [3.5] rather than the [2.0] on the handicap.