This is the first set of mid-week fixtures this season and it marks the beginning of the festive period. The games come around quickly and it is a great opportunity for clubs to consolidate their places in the league table. These two clubs have different aims, but they will both be looking for the three points on Wednesday. Liverpool are fighting at the top of the league, but a recent blip has put more emphasis on this fixture as they need to return to winning ways in order to keep in touch with the leading pack. Meanwhile, Middlesbrough are trying to stay in the Premier League and will be hoping to steer clear of the bottom three over the next month.
The home side will be relishing the opportunity to test themselves against one of the better sides in the division. They performed well in their matches against Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea and they will be hoping to put in a similar performance against Liverpool. Aitor Karanka’s men are good defensively and they will be well organised on Wednesday. However, there are doubts about their attacking quality as they are currently the lowest scoring side in the division.
Liverpool have had a drop off in form lately, taking just four points from their last four matches and there has been a lot of debate about their goalkeeper Loris Karius as many pundits have been suggesting that he isn’t good enough. However, Jurgen Klopp has defended the 23-year-old and I’d expect him to continue in goal on Wednesday. A bigger problem for Liverpool during the festive period may be the lack of quality beneath the first team. The way that Jurgen Klopp demands his team to play does cause fatigue and it is a huge issue during the winter months. He will need to make changes to keep his players as fresh as possible and there are doubts about the quality that exists in the squad.
It is a fixture that Liverpool have done well in down the years, with Middlesbrough recording only one win since 2004. Their last meeting came in the League Cup and it was Liverpool that triumphed, but they required an incredible penalty shootout that finished 14-13. It was 2-2 on the night with Jordan Rossiter and Suso scoring for Liverpool, while Adam Reach and Patrick Bamford netted for Boro.
Daniel Ayala is expected to be back from an ankle injury as he has been training with the first team. George Friend, Alvaro Negredo and Gaston Ramirez will all face late fitness tests on Wednesday night. Meanwhile, James Husband remains on the injury list.
Daniel Sturridge, Dejan Lovren and Emre Can are all doubts ahead of the trip to Teesside. Philippe Coutinho and Danny Ings remain in the treatment room and won’t be available for the match on Wednesday.
Despite being in 16th position, there are only four teams with a better defence than Middlesbrough in the Premier League, with the Teessiders conceding only 16.
Adam Lallana ran 13.7km against West Ham, which was the highest recorded by any player in the Premier League this season. The Englishman broke his own record.
The Middlesbrough centre back has been one of their best players this season and has adapted impressively to life in the Premier League. He has helped Middlesbrough to an excellent defensive record and that has resulted him being tipped for an England call-up in the near future. The 23-year-old is very much a modern day centre half, who is able to play the ball out from the back, but remains an aggressive defender. Ben Gibson is averaging 1.1 tackles, 1.5 interceptions and 5.7 clearances per game. Middlesbrough are a team that put safety first and that is evident in the amount of clearance he makes. The Englishman is an excellent reader of the game and his positional awareness is superb for a player of his age. It is clear that he has benefited hugely from playing under Karanka and there are many that think he will move to a bigger club sooner rather than later. Chelsea have been linked with a move and a match against a side like Liverpool provides him with a great opportunity to prove that he can do well against the best in the league. Liverpool’s attack can be devastating at times and Middlesbrough need Gibson to play well if they are to have a chance of taking something from the game.
There were many Liverpool fans that were uncertain about the signing of Sadio Mane as they were expecting bigger names to come into the club. However, the former Southampton man has been superb and has been one of the Reds’ better players this season. Although it is clear that fatigue is starting to affect him, he remains their most dangerous attacker and his pace will be a weapon on Wednesday night. Middlesbrough are well organised at the back and it is important that Mane’s movement is good, as he has the ability to create space in the final third. Also, Boro will be vulnerable when they attack, as Liverpool are so good at winning the ball back high up the pitch. This will leave spaces open for Mane to run into and it is crucial that he does, as this could be Liverpool’s best chance to score against one of the best defences in the league. Mane already has seven goals and four assists in the Premier League this season. He will be hoping to add to that on Wednesday night.
Liverpool are the favourites, but they have problems at the back and fatigue is likely to play a part over the coming weeks with the amount of fixtures due to be played. Although Middlesbrough don’t have the best attack, they have a defensive line that is able to frustrate Liverpool and I expect them to look to keep the game tight before nicking a goal on the counter attack. They have players in their team that can cause Liverpool problems, especially Adama Traore, as the Reds showed themselves to struggle against the pace of Michail Antonio on Sunday. I’m going to predict a draw in this match.