WILL DYER (@w2dyer) rounds off the Premier League season with a preview of the race for the top-four finale. Liverpool host Middlesbrough hoping for a win to secure Champions League qualification.
Liverpool v Middlesbrough | Sunday 15:00 | Sky Sports 1
The 2016/17 Premier League season concludes on Sunday with all 20 teams playing at 3pm but, unfortunately, there are only three games that mean a great deal. Liverpool host Middlesbrough and Arsenal play Everton at the Emirates with Champions League qualification on the line for both sides.
Manchester City need just a draw at Vicarage Road if Liverpool win by two or less goals. If Liverpool win by three goals exactly and Manchester City draw, they would finish on the same goal difference and points but Liverpool could clinch third on the ‘goals scored’ place decider, depending on how high a scoring draw City achieve.
Lots At Stake
If Arsenal beat Everton then Liverpool must win to finish fourth. There’s a lot of pressure on the Reds; failure to qualify could be seen as a lack of progress on last season and completely change the atmosphere around the Merseyside club.
It is not ideal for Jürgen Klopp’s side that their nearest rivals play the team that could stop them qualifying for the Champions League. I don’t anticipate Everton rolling over at the Emirates but a lack of real effort is highly likely.
Fortunately, for Liverpool, their final game is at Anfield against already relegated Middlesbrough. The visitors have been one of the least potent sides to grace the top flight in a long time and since switching from Aitor Karanka to Steve Agnew in an attempt to correct that they’ve now lost their one strength; defensive shape.
Boro’s last three away games have been 3-0, 4-0 and 4-2 defeats. The former at Chelsea was nothing to be ashamed of but 4-0 at Bournemouth and 4-2 at Hull when still fighting for survival were unforgivable.
Their 50 goals conceded remains the best outside the top nine but with little attacking ability quotes of 22/1 to win at Anfield are well founded. Fans of the Teesside club will point to the 2-2 draw at home to Manchester City as a recent result suggesting some hope of a result, but not for me.
Boro finish bottom of the pile for all attacking statistics, just 97 shots on target this season, 25 less than Sunderland. Thirty-eight shots attempted less than anyone else.
Ironically, they may have frustrated the Reds on their way to a 0-0 draw under Karanka but that would hardly have been a positive note to finish the season on and with Agnew in charge, that approach is gone.
One Way Traffic
With automatic Champions League qualification on the line, Liverpool must go for this. The punishment if they win but only by a one or two goal margin and City draw would be a fourth place finish and that could mean a play-off match with giants like Borussia Dortmund, Napoli and Sevilla in order to make the group stage.
If the Reds play anything like they did in the 4-0 win at West Ham last weekend then a thrashing is on the cards for Middlesbrough. With fourth not at all guaranteed, the pressure is on Liverpool to win but I don’t think their opposition are able to put up much of a fight.
Daniel Sturridge positive vibes should only further add to a nightmare for Boro. Liverpool to win by four or more goals on the -3 handicap is 3/1 at PaddyPower and that’s my selection.
Liverpool v Middlesbrough – Liverpool -3 handicap (3/1 PaddyPower)
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