Spartak MMoscow v Liverpool
Racism has reared its ugly again throughout Europe, with UEFA pledging to clamp down on offenders. Liverpool and England striker Emile Heskey has been on the receiving end during his club’s trip to Valencia and his country’s win in Slovakia recently, and Gerard Houllier has revealed he does not expect his players to have to put up with the abuse.
“We know we will get some racial abuse in Moscow,” he conceded. “It will not affect us. We are very, very strong mentally, but I know what I am prepared to do one day if it goes too far, and you will be surprised,” he warned.
It is thought that the Frenchman will lead his players off the pitch if the chanting gets too much in Spartak. Away trips to Russia are not the most mouth-watering of journeys at the best of times, and Liverpool are expecting a hostile reception from a team who proudly boast never to have lost a home time to an English club.
But having not won in 15 Champions League attempts, the odds are stacked against the Russian side, whose poor form in Europe reflects their dismal doemstiic record this season.
According to the Liverpool coach, this is “not a must win game”, but Houllier knows that anything other than a Liverpool victory is unacceptable. With a clash with Valenciaand a tricky trip to Basle awaiting, deep-down Houllier must realise the pressure is on the Anfield club tonight. They are locked on four points with the Swiss club in the pursuit of second place, and their destiny is firmly in their own hands.
Spartak are without defenders Dmytro Parfionov and Brazilian Moises, plus captain Yegor Titov. Liverpool are missing Steven Gerrard, whose increasing absences through injury must be a worry for both club and country, but Michael Owen, rested at the weekend, will be reinstated to the line-up.
Heskey faces a late fitness test, and if he passes could be used as a left winger.
Spartak: Cherchesov, Kovtun, Kebe, Tchuisse, Baranov, Tsikhmeistruk , Kalinichenko, Danishevski, Matich, Bestchastnykh.
: Dudek, Carragher, Traore, Hyypia, Riise, Murphy, Hamann, Diao, Heskey, Baros, Owen
Basle v Valencia
Basle lost 6-2 in Spain when the teams met on Matchday Three, but coach Christian Gross is hoping that a capacity crowd at the tight Saint Jakob stadium will suit his side far more than Valencia’s imposing Mestalla home.
“I hope the atmosphere in the stadium will be great and, with the tremendous support of our fantastic fans, I think we could have a successful game,” said Gross, indicating the importance of the home supporters in Basle’s quest for an upset.
Although a very tall order, two home wins from their remaining three games, against Valencia tonight and Liverpool in their final fixture would take them through to the second phase.
But Gross is all too aware that his team must be completely focused if they are to have a chance against Valencia, who have a 100 per cent record in Group B so far.
Basle conceded four goals in 18 first half minutes in that 6-2 defeat and he has highlighted his side’s lack of concentration as the reason for the Spanish capitulation.
“I’m absolutely aware that Valencia are one the best teams in the world, and it is essential that we clearly reduce the number of our own mistakes and that we show our presence right from the start,” he said.
They go into the game on the back of a morale boosting 6-0 domestic thrashing of rivals St Gallen, and have no serious injury worries of note. Twice Champions League runners up Valencia have stuttered slightly in the last fortnight after a good start in La Liga, but know a win tonight would secure progression.
Argentinean midfield magician Pablo Aimar dislocated a shoulder in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid and is ruled out, but Kily Gonzalez is fit again. Coach Rafael Benitez has decided to rest combative midfielder David Albelda and is still deliberating over whether Mista or Juan Sanchez will get the nod to partner bustling Norwegian John Carew upfront.
: Zubi; Zwyssig, M. Yakin, Haas, Duruz; Savic, Esposito, Hakan Yakin, Barberis; Rossi, Jimenez.
Valencia: Canizares; Curro Torres, Ayala, Pellegrino, Carboni; Rufete, De los Santos, Baraja, Vicente; Mista/Sanchez, Carew.