MIDDLESBROUGH is a place in the 1990s. At least in my fuzzy mind. I think that’s when I last graced it. I recall going to their then new ground – the one that isn’t Ayresome Park — and it being situated next to what looked like a mountain of dirt, in an industrial-looking, post-apocalyptic landscape. I think the dirt mountain might be what they call a slag heap. I could easily find out what a slag heap actually is, but I just know I won’t be richer for the new knowledge.

I’m looking forward to viewing Middlesbrough with fresher eyes this week. I can see by drilling in on Google Maps that it now has a Nando’s and other recognisable commercial enterprises. In the 1990s it appeared to have none. Maybe my memory is doing the town a disservice. Maybe I’m falling into the same trap many football-related visitors to Liverpool in the 1980s fell into – judging a place by a brief encounter with its urban boondocks.

This week’s imminent trip to the Boro has acquired unexpected cultural significance. Thanks to my friend Steve, I now know that Middlesbrough has a culinary speciality. I might be the last person to know this, but I hadn’t heard of the digestible legend that is ‘parmo’ until a few days ago.

“You coming to Boro, Ste?’”

“Yeah, definitely, they have that parmo up there.”

“What’s parmo, Ste?”

“Some cheesy, chickeny thing,” said Steve.

So I googled ‘parmo’. An image search enquiry that seemed worth the effort. This (below) was typical of the first results:


Not something you’d see on Nigella all that often but appeared to have the main colours I look for in food – yellow and orange.

Then the penny dropped – it’s ‘veal parmigiana’, only with chicken. Which, in turn, makes it actually more ‘chicken schnitzel’, but with loads of cheese on top. It’s not a million miles away from the French classic that became a UK 1970s dinner party staple – ‘chicken cordon bleu’. Only in the Boro they sell it in takeaways. You get to eat it when you’re leathered. From the tables of France’s finest restaurants to the chippies and kebab shops of Teesside. What a journey.

So, win, draw or lose, me, my mate Steve, and the others in our travelling party, will be getting parmo-ed up on Wednesday night. The Reds may be rocking after two consecutive bad results but we will enter the football ground in Middlesbrough defiantly. Heads held high, bellies full of parmo. Unstoppable.

Suddenly, back at base, things aren’t as straightforward for Liverpool. No parmo for the Reds. Jürgen Klopp and his backroom boffins will have retired to the place where they keep their drawing board this week. They will have taken it in turns to approach that easeled blackboard and draw new squiggles and circles and arrows on it. First Klopp, then Zeljko Buvac, then the other ones. Taking it in turns. New ideas. New theories. Endless possibilities.

Liverpool have shipped six goals in two games. That needs to stop. They have concurrently bagged five goals, and yet there’s still a nagging feeling that in our immediate post-Philippe Coutinho reality (he won’t be available for another month) that we’re not as effortlessly firing on all attacking cylinders. Injuries to Dannies, Sturridge and Ings, to the aforementioned Phil, and doubts over Emre Can and Dejan Lovren have simplified and complicated Klopp’s selection issues all at once.

We know the team the manager will put out in the football stadium in Middlesbrough. What we can’t be sure of is the system the 11 will set up within. The revelation of this will be the product of that frenzied work on backroom chalk boards. Against West Ham at the weekend, something wasn’t right. Divock Origi had been shoe-horned into the attacking three, nominally in Coutinho’s stead. In reality, he budged Roberto Firmino out of his central comfort zone and out into the badlands of the left wing. Suddenly a singular problem (how to replace Coutinho) has lead to fundamental disruption of the harmony that had taken Liverpool to the top of the table less than a month ago.

Fans gather outside Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium

The consequence has been points dropped and dreams of leading the table at Christmas dashed. We can’t talk about must-win games yet, but I can’t see how Boro away on a cold and inevitably windy night on Teesside can be viewed in any other way.

Chelsea’s lead is six points on us and, given their imminent fixtures, it’s hard to envisage that gap narrowing any time soon. The Reds need to be hanging on to coat-tails for dear life and that means winning matches by any means necessary.

The Boro are reportedly a dour outfit. A mindset to match that mountain? I don’t think I’ve watched them yet this season but no one’s eulogising about their football. I know so little about them it’s frightening. That I could name nearly as many of their celebrity supporters as I could their first team is some sort of an indictment. OK, I’m talking about the eternally fantastic Bob Mortimer, and no-one else. For the Boro I’m thinking “does Fabrizio Ravanelli still get a game there?”

It is hard to imagine a scenario where it will look pretty up there at the Boro this Wednesday night, so this may well come down to a test of stoutness of hearts and appetites for the fight. All cliches abide, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that Liverpool will need to win battles before they can think about winning wars.

Does this crop of exciting, young Reds want it (the title) badly enough? Has the manager adequately prepared his men to react in the face of inevitable adversity? I suspect we’re about to find out.

The bouncing back Reds to bury Boro:

Karius; Clyne, Klavan, Matip, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Mane, Firmino, Origi.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 11, 2016: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp embraces Sadio Mane after the 2-2 home draw with West Ham United during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Last match v Middlesbrough: League Cup third round — September 23, 2014: Liverpool 2 (Rossiter, Suso) Middlesbrough 2 (Reach, Bamford) (16-15 on pens)

Odds: Middlesbrough 21/4 | Draw 17/5 | Liverpool 8/13

Injured: Marko Grujic (tendon), Daniel Sturridge (calf), Philippe Coutinho (ankle), Danny Ings (knee)

Referee: Jonathan Moss

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