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    Middlesborough vs Liverpool - Can Liverpool Pass One Of Their Biggest Tests To Date?

    Liverpool don't do well at Teesside, and the fact they haven't won there in their last 7 visits speaks volumes. Although a team's past record has little influence on their present performance (especially Liverpool's most recent seemingly endless 14-13 penalty shootout victory against Boro last season), it should be a stark reminder that this is a game that can prove very awkward for Liverpool for several reasons... and one of them is that the last time Liverpool played at the Riverside, they fielded a midfield that included Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano.
    "A repeat of Liverpool's 14-13 penalty shootout victory over 'Boro is unlikely considering this is a league game and there are no penalty shootouts." Thanks Michael Owen.

    Middlesbrough boast the 4th strongest defence in the league - only Chelsea, Tottenham and Southampton have conceded fewer. Ben Gibson has been a revelation in the centre of the Boro defence and it would not be a surprise to see him called up to Southgate's England side in the near future. They possess a wealth of talent with Champions League experience such as Victor Valdes, Negredo, Barragan, Fischer, Chambers and Fabio - a rarity for a newly promoted side. It is also even more rare that many of the aforementioned players also have Premier League experience prior to joining Boro, eliminating the settling in period that occurs to many foreign players who are unfamiliar with the league and have not yet adapted. The fact this "settling in" period has not been applicable for many of those players is vital for any newly promoted side who need points immediately in order to survive.

    This bank of experience coupled with Championship-hardened grit embodied by Gibson, Forshaw and Clayton as well as the added magic of Ramirez and direct pace of Traore presents a difficult test for anyone who comes up against The Smoggies. Their 4-5-1 system proves difficult to penetrate as shown by their outstanding defensive record, but this comes at the cost of a poor attacking return that has provided just 13 goals - the lowest in the Premier League.

    Liverpool on the other hand enter the game on the back of a disappointing run of form where the madcap 4-3 defeat to Bournemouth and 2-2 home draw with a struggling West Ham side were riddled with defensive frailties, individual errors and failure to shut a game out. Injuries to key players such as Coutinho, Sturridge and Lovren as well as Ings and Gomez don't make matters any easier and Klopp has found it difficult to adapt to the situation at hand. The resounding criticism surrounding Liverpool's young goalkeeping recruit in Karius has not eased matters in terms of retaining defensive confidence, although Klopp has partly succeeded in diverting the attention by shifting the criticism onto the pundits themselves.

    That said, Liverpool put in very good attacking performances in both games evidenced by the fact they scored 5 goals in those 2 games, despite the fact they also conceded 6. Firmino has proven less effective in the left wing role, and Origi's good run of form of 4 goals in 4 games makes it a tricky task to return Firmino back to the centre forward role he excelled in earlier in the season as it will come at the expense of a striker who has taken his opportunity exceptionally. Klopp will however be boosted by the return of key man Lallana, which can in turn open the path for Wijnaldum to occupy the left wing berth he played regularly in while still at Newcastle.

    This is a game where, from Liverpool's perspective, the priority should be grinding out a win while retaining a modicum of solidity as opposed to a blistering attacking display as seen against Bournemouth and West Ham. Lessons can be learned from Chelsea's 1-0 win at the Riverside earlier in the season where a tight game starved of chances was settled by a corner delivered at the near post for Costa to capitalize on a defensive mix-up and drive home. Liverpool's steady improvement in the set piece department was what got them all 3 points in their away trip to Crystal Palace, and a similar notion would not be frowned upon in such a game.

    Liverpool are to be involved in a midweek fixture, late kick-off, noisy packed ground, coming up against a newly promoted team with defensive solidity, a team riddled with Champions League experienced players, and a very good recent home record against Liverpool. Middlesbrough are also a team who earned impressive away draws against Arsenal and Manchester City and were only narrowly beaten 1-0 by table toppers Chelsea. This is a game that has all the hallmarks of a difficult evening for Liverpool where they must take the opposition very seriously, and be fully aware that this can impact their season. It will show if Liverpool can continue their "box ticking" they've done several times already against teams they struggled against in the recent past. It is one of Liverpool's biggest tests to date and one they cannot afford to fail in.
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    Item Reviewed: Middlesborough vs Liverpool - Can Liverpool Pass One Of Their Biggest Tests To Date? Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Ahmed Hosny
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