On Sunday, Liverpool should beat Middlesbrough in the final game of the season and qualify for a Champions League qualifier. That statement is not a passionate declaration of confidence borne out of belief in the abilities of Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool's players. It is just a simple assessment of what the Premier League has shown us this season: every team bar Sunderland should be able to beat Middlesbrough at home on Sunday in the same circumstances.
Fans can be worried about Liverpool falling short at Anfield if they want, but after thrashing West Ham United 4-0 at the Olympic Stadium, anything but three points would essentially damn the Klopp's group. If Liverpool's players can't perform one last time to wrap up the season, they don't deserve Champions League football anyway. Yet the players are ready and won't let anyone down this weekend. Arsenal hammered Stoke City 4-1 to put pressure on Liverpool, but the Reds responded in style.
Despite the presence of lowly, relegated opposition, there will be some pressure on Liverpool to complete the job of finishing in the top four if only to avoid an overcrowded abattoir of despair. Liverpool may be without a win in three home games, but that was life before a sparkling midfield diamond where Philippe Coutinho may have reached the next stage in his footballing evolution. The way he played in a creative left-sided central midfield position merely underlined why he is persistently and peskily linked with Barcelona as Andrés Iniesta's successor.
Daniel Sturridge returned to reinvigorate the attack with movement, intelligence, and a willingness to stretch defenders on the Filippo Inzaghi edge of the offside trap. Adam Lallana linked up with both as Slaven Bilić looked on powerlessly from the touchline, and to the surprise of the Liverpool country, Lallana shared his thoughts on the Premier League final game of 2016/17.
“It’s exciting,” Lallana said. “It’s good to be going into the final day of the Premier League with something riding on it. The manager has spoken about that with us this week. This is what you want as a footballer. These are the occasions you thrive on.
“West Ham last weekend felt like a semi-final and now this is the final. It’s in our hands. We want to make this season a great season.”
Klopp said this game isn't a cup final, but Lallana might be building the game up too much with such colourful descriptions. Every team apart from David Moyes' basement vintage exploited home advantage for at least a point against Sunday's opponents. All Liverpool need to do is become the 11th team to beat Middlesbrough at home, something that ultimately should be a routine exercise. He is probably just conveying his excitement and looking forward to the game. He did, however, provide a timely reminder that Liverpool have shown that pressure isn't a problem.
“Of course there’s pressure but there have been a lot of high pressure games this season where we’ve really stepped up to the mark,” he pointed out. “Arsenal at home on the back of losing at Leicester and Tottenham at home after losing to Hull. There was big pressure and the lads responded with two big performances.
“There was huge pressure at West Ham last weekend, especially after the other results the day before. But what I liked was that there was a real calmness around the group. We showed great professionalism with the way we approached it.
“There was the right balance in terms of being up for the game but not getting carried away and I’ve felt the same this week. We know the job this weekend and we trust ourselves to do it.
“It’s important we don’t get restless if a goal doesn’t come in the first 15 to 20 minutes. At West Ham we didn’t get the breakthrough until 35 minutes. We need to trust our ability.
“The supporters know their job. They aren’t stupid, we don’t need to build them up for the weekend. They know there’s a lot riding on it. I’m sure they’ll stay patient like we have to as players.
“The support they have given us home and away throughout the season has been outstanding. They have driven us on and we’ll need them again on Sunday. We want to do it for them.”
I think Lallana is right. Consistency at the top end against smaller clubs has been a problem, but now that Middlesbrough represent an obstacle to a grander vision of the future, expect a comfortable dismissal on Sunday. This is how it's going to be so just relax and enjoy the show.