From the moment the draw for the Champions League group stages was made, there always seemed a good chance Liverpool's final match against FC Basel could be decisive. At Anfield, against the group's other most likely side to finish second behind Real Madrid, and knowing that nothing less than a positive result would do.
In the end, that's how it's turned out, though the path to get to this point has been far rockier than most ever expected. Few would have expected Liverpool would have only four points heading into their final match, their win and draw coming against the group's supposed cannon fodder, Ludogorets, who also have four points but trail head to head.
Basel, who have won two matches including their first against Liverpool, stand on six points and are the better positioned side to advance, knowing a draw on Tuesday night will be enough to qualify them for the knockout rounds. I all likelihood, that means sitting back, setting up on the counter, and hoping that Liverpool's struggles in attack continue.
Striker Marco Streller scored when the two sides first met, his 52nd minute strike handing the Swiss side all three points. He and speedy 20-year-old Derlis Gonzalez, who has scored twice in the Champions League and is Basel's next Mohamed Salah or next next Xherdan Shaqiri on the wing, will likely provide the Swiss side's main attacking threat.
Midfielder Shkelzen Gashi, Basel's set piece taker and leading scorer in the league, will look to arrive in the box late to pounce on any scrambled balls. He's also got a deadly shot from distance, both from open play and dead ball situations, and regularly scores the kind of driven goals from outside the penalty area that once made Steven Gerrard famous.
Johnson Skrtel Toure Enrique
Henderson Gerrard Lallana
Sterling Lambert Coutinho
If Brendan Rodgers is feeling particularly bold, this might seem just the match to bring Emre Can and Lazar Markovic back into the side. Can was Liverpool's best against Chelsea a month ago but rather hasn't seen the pitch since, while Markovic, bar a late cameo against Sunderland, has been sidelined himself after a few promising Champions League performances.
It seems more likely, though, that the manager will stick with some of the players who have been key to the club's recent improvement. It also seems likely that after Lucas started his fourth match in a row on the weekend while Steven Gerrard rested, the two will now swap roles. What seems less certain is whether Gerrard plays at the base or the top of midfield.
There are potential problems either way—Gerrard has been downright poor in the holding role on one hand and would mean no room for one of Lallana, Coutinho, or Sterling on the other. Though given Can is out of favour, Lucas' recent heavy match-load, and that most of Rodgers' remaining options are more attack-minded, a return to the base of midfield might be most likely.
And regardless of how that midfield sets up, the biggest question mark might actually be up top. Mario Balotelli remains missing, Daniel Sturridge remains injured, and Rickie Lambert has started five matches in a row now. He has also looked increasingly statuesque, an exhausted 32-year-old who saw little action through the first three months of the season.
Against Sunderland, he might as well not have been on the pitch once the second half started. Yet with Fabio Borini unable to even make the bench of late with no other striking options and a clearly exhausted Lambert, one would have to expect more of the same on Tuesday. Hopefully, if Liverpool can score early, it won't turn into a major problem.
Kickoff is set for 7:45PM GMT/2:45PM EST on Tuesday, with ITV providing coverage in the UK and Fox Sports 1 carrying the match in the United States. Our coverage will continue with the overnight open thread tonight and carry into live coverage, team sheets an hour before kickoff, and post-match reaction. If you haven't already, sign up for an SBNation account and join us for it.