by Phil McNulty - BBC Sport
Rafael Benitez's turbulent season reaches a defining moment in Marseille's Stade Velodrome on Tuesday.Liverpool co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have ceased hostilities with Benitez after his recent public criticism, soothed no doubt by a superb run of results before Saturday's defeat at Reading.Hicks and Gillett, however, are expected to explain to Benitez in stark terms how unwise any further outbursts would be when they meet before Manchester United's visit to Anfield next Sunday.And the Spanish boss can ease any possible tension by ensuring Liverpool are safely in the knockout phase of the Champions League before the three men, accompanied no doubt by chief executive Rick Parry, have their Anfield summit.Liverpool need to win in Marseille to ensure safe passage into the last 16 of Europe's elite tournament, barring a surprise Besiktas victory in Porto.Any other outcome will strike at Benitez's position given the anger of the American duo at his unwise, petulant verbal assault on the pair.Liverpool fans have marched on Anfield with all manner of verbose banners in support of Benitez - and there is no doubting the affection in which he is held.But there is also no doubting the discontent behind the scenes recently. This was not some media invention. Indeed it was Benitez's own behaviour that brought it out into the open.There is, however, one common denominator which should bring the two factions together.Namely, the good of Liverpool Football Club.Benitez knows he will be untouchable, or should be, if Liverpool beat Marseille and build stealthily towards a title challenge.But he will also be aware that the fickle nature of any football fan will surface again should Liverpool fail to beat Marseille and slip against Manchester United.It is in this context that Liverpool's visit to France must be placed.And, after resounding wins against Besiktas and Porto, Liverpool must be favourites to complete their recovery from a dreadful start to their Champions League campaign.Benitez looks to have finally ditched his farcical ploy of resting Fernando Torres, realising he is too important to be kicking his heels on the bench.Steven Gerrard is looking rejuvenated, despite his mystifying substitution at Reading.And Liverpool are surely unlikely to repeat the dismal performance that saw them beaten by Mathieu Valbuena's goal at Anfield in October.Marseille were helped by a poor team selection from Benitez, while they were lifted by the arrival of new boss Eric Gerets.This time Liverpool have regained some of their poise and form, although they will hope to escape the irony of any dramatic interventions from old boys Bolo Zenden and Djibril Cisse.Benitez is often at his best under pressure - and make no mistake this is a game full of personal pressure.Win, and he can expect a relatively warm reception from Hicks and Gillett.Lose, and he may find his outburst being pored over in more detail than he would like by the pair.The stakes are high for Liverpool in the south of France. They are just as high for Benitez.