Chelsea v Liverpool Sunday 16:30, Live on Sky Sports
Numbers don't quite add up for Chelsea
Liverpool have let their standards slip in the Premier League while negotiating their two big Champions League missions against Manchester City and Roma, dropping points in three of their last four domestic matches with draws against Everton (0-0), West Brom (2-2) and Stoke (0-0).
A top-four finish is still in their own hands, though, and will remain so even if they lose this game. However, Chelsea can at least make life uncomfortable for Jurgen Klopp's menshould they pick up maximum points. It would be a result that virtually guarantees that the race for Champions League qualification goes down to the final day.
The Blues are currently six points behind with a game in hand - at home to Huddersfield on Wednesday night - so they can draw level on points with two wins. But even if they do drag it out that far, they finish with a tricky trip to Newcastle next weekend, while Liverpool play host to poor travellers Brighton.
Ultimately, goal difference is the killer for Antonio Conte's men. Three wins probably wouldn't be enough, they would also need to make up a deficit of 17 goals in the process. The only other avenue is to win all three matches and hope that Tottenham capitulate by losing two of their last three.
Cup final distractions lessen the edge
For Chelsea, the fact this game is being talked up at all will be some consolation. The Carabao Cup semi-final second leg defeat to Arsenal at the end of January triggered a sorry spell of seven defeats in 13 matches, the last of which - a humbling 3-1 home reverse to Tottenham - appeared to signal the end of any Premier League aspirations.
Three straight wins have revived the narrative and brought some respectability back to the league table but Conte's language in the build-up is quite telling. He isn't being drawn on the prize or the mathematics involved, Chelsea are simply playing for "hope", a word he used repeatedly in his pre-match press conference.
As such, don't be surprised if the intensity of the Chelsea performance doesn't exactly marry up on the Richter scale to the pre-match hype. They will be professional and try to win the game, perhaps working to the idea that Liverpool might tire in the latter stages, but bigger games than this have passed without the Blues hitting top gear this season.
And Liverpool aren't the only ones hoping to define their season in a May final. An FA Cup date with Manchester United looms on the horizon for the Londoners and while their priorities might not please the club's accountants, that's when Eden Hazard & Co will be genuinely looking to turn it on and serve up their best display of the season.
Two approaches for returning Reds
Liverpool have no fresh injury concerns following their 4-2 second-leg defeat at the Stadio Olimpico. The Reds were never in any grave danger against the Italians but fatigue is an obvious concern, for the emotional energy expanded after the final whistle if nothing else.
With that in mind, there's two ways that Klopp might consider approaching this game. On the one hand, he might look to capitalise on the euphoria of making it to Kiev and encourage his players to go out and enjoy themselves, hoping for an early goal and an afternoon that takes care of itself.
On the other, he might have nothing more than the point Liverpool need in mind, rest a few of his key players and guard against the encounter becoming too stretched, in which scenario you'd fancy Chelsea to be encouraged should they still be level-pegging in the latter stages.
The German isn't renowned for being the most pragmatic but there has been a marked improvement in Liverpool's underlying defensive numbers from an 'expected goals' perspective since the turn of the year, following the arrival of Virgil van Dijk and a consistent run of games for Loris Karius.
Jackpot lies in drab stalemate
That growing faith in his team's ability to keep things tight, combined with some harrowing memories of shipping a dozen goals in three away matches against top-six opposition prior to Christmas, should encourage Klopp to plump for the second of those two options.
As such, the draw looks increasingly attractive at 3.65 the more you play about with the idea. It's a bet that Liverpool have landed in seven out of 13 matches against the top eight opposition this season and seven out of 14 last term, stats that might surprise a few.
Likewise, it follows that the 0-0 correct score is worth a nibble at 17.00, in light of the reservations already expressed about the intensity with which Chelsea approach this. If they anticipate a buoyant Liverpool at the outset and don't set the right tempo straight away, they might just find themselves struggling to raise the tempo at all.