It’s not just Liverpool who are looking for success today in the league in their quest for playing in Europe next season. For Liverpool the ambition is to get into fourth place and then into the Champions League qualifiers, but opponents Middlesborough are trying to get themselves back into the UEFA Cup.
Boro are currently in seventh place and so as things stand would qualify for the UEFA Cup next season. Eighth isn’t good enought though and with Spurs breathing down their necks Steve McClaren’s side are looking for victory today to hold onto their place.
Liverpool have only lost three league games at home this season, against Chelsea, Manchester United and Birmingham. In all three cases these teams did a league double over Liverpool this season, and McClaren wants to see his team become the fourth.
McClaren said, "There are a lot of permutations for the final games but we are in pole position. We need to win one of our away games against Liverpool or Manchester City. A point or a win at Liverpool is important. Liverpool will have one eye on the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea next week, but their home record is immaculate. I think they have a big enough squad to cope. Liverpool need to win if they are to finish fourth in the table."
McClaren is hoping that the problems he saw his own team face by playing in Europe and the league will have a similar impact on Liverpool today. Liverpool are facing three games in six days, all of which are big and important. McClaren continued: "Playing in Europe can take its toll with the travelling and recovery periods. It is a struggle to compete on three fronts. You never get a game where you can coast."
Gareth Southgate is hoping to make his 400th Premiership appearance this afternoon. Southgate is doubtful though after his dramatic-looking injury in midweek against Newcastle. Whilst the eye of most of the world were on Liverpool’s game at Stamford Bridge, the former Villa and Palace defender suffered a head wound needing seven stitches. Boss McClaren says he’ll name his team late to give him and George Boateng a chance of playing: "Southgate and Boateng both took knocks against Newcastle. I would rate their prospects of playing at 50-50. We will leave a decision until as late as possible.
Liverpool need to be up for today’s game if the words of McClaren are true: "There is great determination on the part of both players to play, with us being so close to the prize of Europe. Southgate stayed on at Newcastle to finish the job rather than leave the field to have stitches when he cut his head."
Liverpool’s injury crisis this season has led to them using three different keepers in the league and Champions League, Boro have also now got an injury with ‘keeper Mark Schwarzer ruled out. His fellow Australian Brad Jones deputised against Arsenal, West Brom and Newcastle and impressed his manager: "Jones has shown terrific maturity and composure. The progress of Jones has not surprised me. We always knew he had talent and potential. He is now gaining experience. Paul Barron, our goalkeeping coach, always said Jones would soon be breathing down the neck of Schwarzer, who is our number one." McClaren continued: "One of the things that has pleased me is that we have conceded only two goals in the last five games. Clean sheets are important at this stage of the season. We are always capable of scoring goals."
McClaren sounded a warning to Liverpool to be ready for a big game: "We have eight points from our last five games and are third top scorers in the Premier League. We are on a good run and are difficult to beat."