Liverpool v Basle
Basle impressed on their Champions League debut, winning their first group game 2-0 against Spartak Moskow and Houllier isdetermined to ensure there is no room for complacency tonight.
“They are not just a little team from Switzerland – Basle are a very good team,” said the Liverpool boss. “I knew they would beat Spartak. They have four or five very good players, including their attacking trio of Hakan Yakin, (Julio Hernan) Rossi and (Christian) Gimrnez.”
Basle boss Christian Gross, who endured a miserable period in charge of Tottenham in 1997, has put his attributed his recent success down to his stay in the English Premiership.
“My time there helped to make me a stronger person so I am grateful for that and the benefit can be seen now with the job I am doing at Basle,” he said.
Attention tonight will be focussed upon Michaell Owen. The current European Footballler of the Year has suffered a goal drought this season, netting just once and that from the penalty spot. Subsequently, he has missed two penalty kicks.
Nonetheless, Owen received a massive boost to his confidence when Houllier confirmed that he would retain spot-kick duties.
‘Michael will take our next penalty,’ said Houllier. ‘I’ve spoken to him about it and he told me that he would understand if I took him away from the duty. However, I want him to continue because he needs to take our next penalty and it will be good for him when he scores.”
For Basle, midfield player Antonio Esposito is suspended along with his Liverpool counterpart Dietmar Hamann. Vladimir Smicer is another missing for the reds, the Czech international is still carrying a toe injury. Liverpool however, are boosted by the return of Stephane Henchoz, who missed the Valencia game, to partner Sami Hyypia in defence.
: Dudek; Carragher, Hyypia, Henchoz, Riise; Murphy, Gerrard, Cheyrou, Heskey; Owen, Baros.
: Zuberbuhler; Haas, Quennoz, M Yakin, Atouba; Barberis, Cantaluppi, Esposito; H Yakin; Gimenez, Rossi.
Spartak Moscow v Valencia
Coach Oleg Romantsev can point to an injury crisis to explain his team’s shortcomings so far this season with Russia captain Yegor Titov and defender Dmytro Parfionov still sidelined with serious injuries.
Romantsev offered an honestt assessment of his side”s chances.
“In our current condition, every team is a serious opponent, but I think that Valencia are favourites in Group B,” he stated.
Valencia coach Raphael Benitez, meanwhile, has problems of his own ahead if this encounter. Midfield player Kily Gonzalez and defenders Fabio Aurelio, Miroslav Djukic and David Navarro all miss the match.
Benitez has been counsellling against complacency among his players.
“They have good players and a lot of European experience so it will be hard for us to win tomorrow,” he warned.
“They have a lot of determination,’ he added. ‘We do want to win, but I can assure you we will have to battle our way throughout this game and we will have to defend precisely until the very last minute.”