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Last four head-to-head:
2-2 Liverpool aet (h; League Cup) 09.23.14
0-2 Boro (a) 02.28.09
2-1 Liverpool (h) 08.23.08
3-2 Liverpool (h) 02.23.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 West Ham (h); 3-4 Bournemouth (a); 2-0 Leeds (h)
Boro: 0-1 Southampton (a); 1-0 Hull (h); 2-2 Leicester (a)
Liverpool: Mané 7; Coutinho, Firmino, Milner 5; Lallana 4; Can, Origi 3; Lovren 2; Henderson, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Boro: Negredo, Stuani 3; Gaston 2; Ayala, de Roon, Downing, Gibson 1
Referee: Jon Moss
Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Klavan Milner
Lallana Henderson Wijnaldum
Mané Origi Firmino
I am not enamored with the prospect of another Liverpool game so soon after Sunday.
The injury crisis hasn't eased. Coutinho's still out for a few more weeks. Sturridge is still out for *shrug macro*. Can will miss this match with the minor knee injury that kept him out of the last match, Lovren will probably miss this match with the hamstring complaint which saw him removed at halftime in the last match.
Just as importantly, I suspect the crisis of faith hasn't eased either. At least mine hasn't.
Liverpool haven't been good in the last two matches. One point from six seems slightly unfair, but did Liverpool really deserve to win either of those matches? Liverpool didn't do enough to win either of those matches. And blame falls on both the often and rightfully scapegoated defense as well as the previously potent attack.
And Liverpool, with an increasingly diminished squad while still one of the hardest working teams in the league, have used just one substitute in each their last two matches, both basically out of necessity. Fatigue seems likely to set in early this festive season. And there aren't many potential changes possible in tomorrow's XI.
I'll continue banging the "Origi shouldn't start" drum for two reasons. Most importantly, I'm still fairly certain that Liverpool are a more cohesive side with Firmino as the spearhead, even if we've pretty much only seen it this season when Coutinho also plays. He is more influential, the attack combines more often and more effectively, Liverpool create better chances, Liverpool press more fervently. A secondary consideration is it gives Liverpool at least one potentially game-changing option off the bench. You know, unlike in the last two matches.
But with Can, Coutinho, and Sturridge all absent, there aren't many ways to make this work. If Can were available, Wijnaldum could more up to the left wing. If Sturridge were available, it's a like for like change. Both of those will probably be options before Coutinho's back. Woodburn's still too young to start matches, Ojo's not fully fit after a long absence.
The one possibility is playing Moreno as a left-sided forward. We know defense certainly isn't his strong suit. He is, however, quick and creative and he'd actually give Liverpool width on the left, something they've desperate lacked with Milner and Firmino manning that flank in the last two matches (look at both Liverpool's average position/passing network as well as West Ham's tackles and interceptions from Sunday). But I mean, Moreno? Ha. *inserts hilarious picture of Moreno on a hoverboard*
So we're hoping that Liverpool have learned something from the last two setbacks, that Klopp's both identified and found remedies for the underlying problems. Because otherwise, it's same as. The same midfield three, the same back four which finished Sunday's match, and yes, the same goalkeeper.
Karius, for better or for worse, will keep his place. And I'm indifferent on this front. It makes sense to take a low-on-confidence keeper out of the firing line, but we've got two years of precedent for Mignolet actually being bad compared to two sometimes shaky months from a keeper five years younger in a new team in a new league. I'm far less angry at Karius 48 hours after the fact than I was on Sunday; his positioning should have been better on Payet's free kick, but the wall should have been as well, and there was little he could do about the second.
While Middlesbrough might not seen the most threatening opponents, they'll certainly present problems. Like Liverpool, they never stop running. They don't score often, but they don't concede often either. They've kept just one clean sheet in the last five matches, 1-0 over really really not good Hull, but only one match during that stretch saw more than a goal for each side since: a 2-2 draw at Leicester. Otherwise, 1-1, 0-1, 1-0, 0-1.
Boro have also been better away from home, similarly stingy but more capable of counter-attacking, holding Arsenal, City, and Leicester to impressive draws. But you'd suspect they'll have more opponents to counter at home against the likes of Liverpool than most other sides. And, while it's been awhile, Liverpool haven't done well in their last few trips to Teesside, winless in the last seven trips, the most recent in 2008-09.
Their probable XI tomorrow is 4-5-1 – Valdes; Barragan, Chambers, Gibson, Fabio; Traore, de Roon, Clayton, Forshaw, Downing; Negredo. Negredo's still questionable to return, missing Saturday's match with a hamstring problem, while both Gaston Ramirez and George Friend remain absent. If Negredo's unavailable, it'll probably be Jordan Rhodes up front, but Stuani and Viktor Fischer are also options.
Negredo's an effective striker who can score in any possible manner. Adama Traore's a massive threat on the counter, fast as hell even if often without end product. Middlesbrough love to cross – something Liverpool's struggled with at times – most often through Stewart Downing, who you might be familiar with. Both Clayton and Forshaw are underrated, dynamic English midfielders capable of getting into the box but also more than willing to shoot from distance.
And, of course, I'll worry about the handful of ex-Liverpool players. Downing on the left flank, Antonio Barragan at right back, and Daniel Ayala at center-back, although the latter is unlikely to start. It'd be very Liverpool to see one of those players come back to haunt.
So here we are. Predominantly fearing we could see Liverpool's hole dug deeper. Hopefully, that's my natural and never-ending pessimism. Because I'm certain that Klopp will have hammered into the side that it's much more an opportunity to right the recent wrongs. But I'm less than convinced the side will be able to so soon.