A potentially pivotal match in the Premier League top-four race takes place at Anfield on Thursday when champions Liverpool welcome Chelsea to Merseyside.
The hosts sit one place and one point behind their visitors, and victory for either team would be enough to lift them into the Champions League spots with fourth-placed West Ham United not in action in midweek.
The top-four race is not one either of these clubs would have gone into the season hoping to be involved in, and certainly not one they would have expected to be chasing, with ground still to make up at this stage of the campaign.
However, both teams – and Liverpool in particular – have been forced to temper their expectations over the course of the season and securing Champions League football next term is now the sole priority for both as far as their league ambitions are concerned.
Liverpool’s slide down the table has been more recent, winning just two games out of 11 prior to Sunday’s much-needed 2-0 triumph over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
A Curtis Jones strike and Kean Bryan own goal ensured that the champions ended a four-game losing streak in the Premier League, and the challenge for Jurgen Klopp’s side now is to build on that and get their season back on track.
Plenty of problems still exist for Liverpool, though, not least a scarcely-believable run of form at home which has seen them lose their last four Anfield outings.
That is already the worst run Liverpool have suffered since 1923, and incredibly as many home defeats as they had suffered in their first 100 such games under Klopp, and another loss on Thursday would see them fall to five successive home defeats for the first time in their entire history – either in the league or across all competitions.
It would be a remarkably poor record at any time, but becomes even more baffling considering it has come immediately after a 68-game home unbeaten run in the league – the second-longest such streak in English top-flight history.
Liverpool’s winless run at Anfield now stretches back seven games to December 16, and they have scored just once in their last five matches at Anfield, having netted in each of their 42 outings prior to that.
Those stats paint a bleak picture, particularly coming up against a Chelsea side that has looked so solid defensively under Thomas Tuchel, but the positive for Liverpool is that they still have time to save their season.
Despite such a poor recent run, only two teams have picked up more home points than the Reds this season, while victory on Thursday would lift them back into the top four and would suddenly make the situation look a lot rosier.
The champions outclassed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the reverse fixture, but Thursday’s visitors appear to be a different proposition under Tuchel and only Manchester City have picked up more points over the last six league games.
Indeed, Tuchel is yet to taste defeat since taking over as manager, winning six and drawing three of his nine games at the helm – only Jose Mourinho and Luiz Felipe Scolari, with 10 games and 12 games respectively, have enjoyed longer unbeaten starts as Chelsea boss.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of that is the fact that Chelsea have conceded just two goals in those nine games – they shipped 12 in their final nine under Frank Lampard – giving Tuchel a firm foundation to build upon.
The task now will be to improve the team’s balance going forward; while they have only conceded twice, they have also only scored 10 goals in those nine games and drew a blank last time out against Manchester United.
Callum Hudson-Odoi survived a contentious penalty call in that otherwise-uneventful goalless draw at Stamford Bridge – a result which saw Chelsea fail to capitalise on defeats for Leicester City and West Ham United earlier in the weekend.
The Blues remain one point outside the top four as a result, but they are also just one point above Merseyside duo Liverpool and Everton, both of whom they play in their next two games.
Negative results in those two matches could see them plummet down the table, but they will arrive at Anfield in confident mood given their hosts’ recent struggles at home.
Chelsea’s away record has also improved lately; they have won four of their five on the road across all competitions under Tuchel, drawing the other, having lost four of their last five away games under Lampard.
The Blues have not won a league game at Anfield since 2014, but they will know what to expect heading into what will be their sixth meeting with Liverpool in the last two seasons.
The two managers will also know each other well having faced off 14 times in the past, with Tuchel winning just two of those and losing nine – the most matches he has lost against anyone in his top-flight managerial career.
Liverpool Premier League form: WLLLLW
Liverpool form (all competitions): LLLWLW
Chelsea Premier League form: WWWWDD
Chelsea form (all competitions): WWWDWD