Liverpool vs Basel
Tuesday night is make or break time for Liverpool, with pretty much their entire season hanging on the thread of the win they need from their home game with Basel to progress to the knockout phase of the Champions league.
After picking up just one point from their four European group games since they opened with an unconvincing 2-1 win at Anfield over Ludogorets back in September, Brendan Rodgers can perhaps count himself lucky that his side’s fate is still in their own hands. A last minute equalizer from the Bulgarians deprived the Reds of victory in their last Champions league outing, but in fact, even if they had won that game, they would still need to beat Basel to advance, having lost 1-0 to the Swiss side in the reverse fixture at the beginning of October. Liverpool are languishing in ninth place in the Premier league, having already lost as many as the six games they lost in the whole of last season, and we are perhaps seeing what might have happened last season if they had not had Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge at their disposal. Suarez has flown the nest and Sturridge remains injured, while the dubious efforts of Mario Balotelli have been lacking for five games due to a hamstring problem. Amid much publicity, Rodgers has been keeping his skipper, Steven Gerrard under wraps with this important game in mind, and Liverpool will need their talisman to be at his influential best if they are to break down a Basel side that only needs a draw to qualify to the next round. He came on as sub in the home game to Sunderland on Saturday, but was unable to inspire his side in a drab goalless draw, and they can expect similar resistance against the Swiss Super League leaders.
Basel come into this game buoyed by successive away wins at FC Zurich and Lucerne, bringing their current league run to five straight wins, a sequence that has allowed them open up an eight-point gap at the top of the table. Their 4-0 home win over Ludogorets last month put them in the driving seat for a qualifying spot, and only a solitary Cristiano Ronaldo strike denied them a share of the spoils in their home tie with Real Madrid two weeks ago. Strikers Marco Streller and Breel Embolo have each netted five goals apiece in the league, but Basel’s main danger this season has been attacking midfielder, who has bagged eleven goals in 15 league outings, including seven in his last six games.
After conceding five at the Bernabeu in their opening group game, the Swiss side have conceded just twice in four European ties, and will be a tough nut to crack for a Liverpool side that has seemed to lack conviction and confidence in front of goal, especially at Anfield. With the Swiss only needing a draw, I’m expecting them to sit back behind the ball, relying on their defensive resilience and their speed on the break to counter Liverpool’s attacking intent.