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Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Liverpool won't be reckless as they look to secure a top-four finish

Narrow victory more important to Jurgen Klopp than a Reds romp

Jurgen Klopp is eyeing a Champions League place
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Premier League
Sky Sports 1, 3pm Sunday

The 4-0 thrashing of West Ham was the eye-catching show of force Liverpool fans had been craving for weeks, but the Anfield faithful will be more than happy to sign off the season with a scrappy, uninspiring performance as long as they secure the three points.

Even a one-goal win against an unambitious Middlesbrough side would guarantee at least a Champions League playoff place for the Reds next season. And while third place, which grants automatic entry to the Champions League group stage, would of course be eminently more desirable, Liverpool's fate is out of their own hands in that regard. Even a win by three goals or more grants only fourth if Manchester City win away at Watford.

It's hard to imagine the Citizens will slip up against a Watford side so undermined by injuries, so surely Jurgen Klopp will ask for a sensible performance from his team rather than a gung-ho display which could lead to mistakes and leave the Champions League door ajar for Arsenal.

The Reds' carefree romp in east London last weekend was a result out of keeping with their recent record and one aided by an utterly inept performance from their hosts.

West Ham went into that match in full flip-flop mode having already beaten local rivals Tottenham and achieved Premier League safety. Key duo Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate were both released from the squad immediately after the Spurs clash due to injury concerns, and the performance of their teammates against Liverpool hinted that the rest of West Ham squad weren't far behind them in signing off for the summer.

That four-goal win at the London Stadium was Liverpool's first victory by more than two goals since December 27 - 19 games beforehand. Without the cutting edge of Sadio Mane and the sometimes underappreciated tactical awareness of Jordan Henderson, the Reds, while still generally efficient enough, have often looked laboured.

They are unlikely to be made to look any more free-flowing against a Boro side who have been only too aware of their attacking limitations this season and have instead sought to stifle their opponents.

It hasn't always worked, of course, as Middlesbrough's relegation was confirmed with a 3-0 defeat at Chelsea in their last away game. And prior to that they had lost 4-0 at Bournemouth, albeit having playing 70 minutes with ten men.

However, in the main that hasn't been the story of an uninspiring but generally solid Boro side this season, with those recent defeats two of just three losses by more than two goals this term.

Backing Middlesbrough +2.5 goals on the Asian handicap market would ensure a profit at close to even money with Boro winning, drawing or losing by one or two goals.

And while their lack of quality makes the first two scenarios deeply unlikely, a narrow defeat for Middlesbrough at a top-class arena like Anfield would be no disgrace and would give Steve Agnew's proud side something to build on as they prepare for another shot at Championship promotion in 2017-18.

Recommended bet
Middlesbrough +2.5 Asian handicap
2pts 97-100 bet365

Key stat
Only West Brom, Stoke and Middlesbrough have scored fewer goals in the final 15 minutes of Premier League home games than Liverpool this season

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Dan Sait is the Football Editor of the Racing & Football Outlook - out every Tuesday.
Follow @rfoutlook @DanSait

Even a one-goal win against an unambitious Middlesbrough side would guarantee at least a Champions League playoff place for the Reds next season.
E.W. Terms
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