Dave Tindall uses this week’s Red Letter to urge Liverpool over the line in their fight to return to the Champions League – and to quote Steven Gerrard, ‘let’s not let this slip now boys’.
When the fixture list came out last summer, there was trepidation about our early games but some comfort over our run-in….
The concerns that we could make a slow start were blasted out of the water on opening day. We played some scintillating stuff to beat Arsenal 4-3 at the Emirates and then picked up another four points in away games at Chelsea and Spurs, who have finished this season first and second.
That win against the Gunners now has enormous significance ahead of Sunday’s 38th and final match of the 2016/17 Premier League season.
Flip that 4-3 and they’d have 75 points to our 70. Once more, their usual sprint to the line would have got them a prized Champions League slot and left us stranded in fifth.
Instead, Liverpool now have a clear and seemingly straightforward task. Beat Middlesbrough and we’ve cracked the top four for just the second time in eight seasons.
In the other six, all our finishes were between 6th and 8th while our points tallies from 2009/10 were: 63, 58, 52, 61, 84, 62, 60. I’m almost amazed by how low some of those are. 52! Really!
After 37 games of this campaign we already have 73 in the bank so clearly Jurgen Klopp has had a major impact in his first full season regardless of what happens.
Boro are hopeless on the road – what could possibly go wrong for Liverpool….?!
Of course, it would be absurd to miss out now.
Middlesbrough are relegated after just five wins all season and have lost nine of their last 13 games. Since early December their away record reads: Played 11, Won 0, Drawn 2, Lost 9, Scored 3, Conceded 19. In their last three away games under the less defensively disciplined Steve Agnew they’ve shipped 11 goals.
In short, Boro are hopeless on the road and they’re absolutely there for the taking.
Klopp has history of final-day heartbreaks
Of course, I’m a human being and therefore possess one of those little pesky voices that tells me everything’s going to go horribly wrong.
One thing being used by it to nag me is the Jurgen Klopp documentary I watched on LFCTV at the start of the season.
In it, Klopp is shown suffering a number of final-day heartbreaks during his time in Germany and, of course, that was the story again in our final match of last season. As I write this today, it’s exactly one year ago since we suffered the trauma of Europa League final defeat to Sevilla after taking a 1-0 lead into the break.
Two things though. The documentary also shows Klopp having final-day highs in other seasons and, let’s be honest, Middlesbrough aren’t exactly Sevilla!
The man who seemingly put us on the brink of victory against Sevilla was Daniel Sturridge, that goal he curled home with the outside of his left foot an absolute stunner.
Sturridge to produce the goods again?
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that he has a very good record in the month of May and could therefore be the man to shine in the last few games. He did just that against West Ham last weekend.
“Spot on,” was my instant reaction when I saw the starting XI against West Ham. This was a game we simply had to win and by playing Sturridge up front with Divock Origi and bringing Adam Lallana back, Klopp was showing the positive intent he should really have displayed against Southampton.
Coutinho devastating in midfield
The formation allowed Philippe Coutinho to drop back into midfield and the value of seeing the game in front of him rather than with his back to goal was shown to devastating effect.
The perfectly-weighted throughball for the first was a delight, as was Sturridge’s little step-over and shimmy past the goalkeeper.
With the May sunshine, the game being played in a big stadium in London and the huge prize at stake (for us at least), it really did have the air of a Wembley Cup final.
Coutinho relishes such a stage and he’d scored in our last two Wembley games – the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa in 2014/15 and last season’s League Cup final penalty loss to Man City.
This time his goals were decisive though. There was an element of five-a-side about them as he just waltzed past West Ham defenders before smashing home and, of course, that’s how easy he makes it look when he’s on his game.
Typically, there are turning points or moments of good fortune in Cup finals – and that’s how this game felt – and we certainly got the breaks when Andre Ayew hit the post from three yards out (twice!) and the ref ignored Gini Wijnaldum’s handball/arm in face moment in the box.
But, quite simply, this was the most enjoyable game and performance I can remember from us in a while. Scoring goals, having fun and back to those heady, early-season days when a title challenge looked on the cards.
The win at West Ham felt like the huge uppercut that left Arsenal’s Champions League bid wobbling all over the place.
One more punch and we’ve won the fight. Come on boys, finish it off….
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