Liverpool and FC Basel meet in a straight shootout at Anfield Tuesday to determine which team joins Real Madrid in advancing from Group B of the Champions League.
Only a win will suffice for Liverpool, whose return to Europe’s top competition has been a disappointment with its only points coming from matches against group minnow Ludogorets Razgrad.
Basel will go through with a draw - and will be buoyed by its surprising strong record against English teams that has seen the Swiss team lose just one of its last nine matches. Basel has won four straight games against Premier League opposition, including home and away against Chelsea in last season’s group stage.
In the other game, group winner Madrid hosts Bulgarian champion Ludogorets, which cannot reach the last 16 but could still finish third and gain entry to the knockout stage of the Europa League.
Here are some things to know about Tuesday’s games:
Liverpool will look to captain Steven Gerrard to rise to the big occasion again - just like he did exactly 10 years ago in one of his defining moments in the famous red shirt.
In 2004, Gerrard scored a brilliant long-range goal in the final minutes to seal a 3-1 victory over Olympiakos in their final group game - securing a two-goal winning margin that put Liverpool through. The English club went on to win the Champions League that season.
It is one of a number of big-game moments in the career of Gerrard, who is now age 34 and no longer plays every game under manager Brendan Rodgers.
He started on the bench for Saturday’s 0-0 draw against Sunderland in the Premier League, ensuring he will be ready for Basel.
“We can’t always rely on him. It can’t be up to him every single game to be the catalyst.” Rodgers said. “His talent is world class but that contribution has to come around the team.”
MAKING A POINT
Basel will advance to the last-16 with a repeat of its 1-1 draw at Liverpool 12 seasons ago.
Then, the two teams played at Anfield earlier in the group stage, before also meeting in a decisive sixth and final match.
Basel needed only a point in November 2002 to clinch second place in the group, and got it despite letting a three-goal lead slip to an eventual 3-3 draw.
Basel has lost both away matches this season, and Liverpool lost four of its past six home games, stretching back to 2009.
Real Madrid has a little bit of history to play for when it welcomes Bulgarian minnow Ludogorets on Tuesday.
The defending champions are the only team to have won all five group games, and have already wrapped up top spot.
But Madrid will be aiming for a 19th consecutive victory across all competitions that will give it one more than the record for a Spanish team set by Barcelona in 2005-06.
“The key to keeping this up is playing consistently,” said Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos. “The important thing isn’t the record, rather winning each individual game.”
Cristiano Ronaldo - unless coach Carlo Ancelotti decides to give his star forward a rare rest - will also try to add to his stunning tally of 29 goals in 21 games for Madrid this campaign.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva and Associated Press writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona contributed to this report.
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