Sport

Saturday 15 December 2018

Houllier looks to Fowler for miracle

WILLIAM JOHNSON

GERARD HOULLIER spoke enthusiastically and convincingly yesterday about steering Liverpool to a bright future.Anfield's new sole manager was equally frank, however, on the immediate prospects of a team who are low on confidence, have trouble defending and have had the midfield heart ripped out of them by disciplinary problems.

This all makes tonight's UEFA Cup third-round second leg tie with aspiring Spanish champions Celta Vigo a massive watershed in Liverpool's new era.

Qualification for the quarter-finals, highly improbable though it is, would buy Houllier the time he needs to mount a realistic challenge for European glory next spring.

FAILURE

Failure to overturn a 3-1 deficit would leave Liverpool with only the FA Cup to look forward to in their efforts to win some overdue silverware.

The championship seems, as it has been since 1990, beyond their erratic capabilities, even though, as they showed against Aston Villa last month, they can overcome any opposition when everything clicks into place.

Sadly, as Houlier readily admits, that does not happen often enough. Nor will it become a regularity until he rebuilds team spirit. To do that Houllier accepts that he needs new faces and he plans an early injection of new, expensive, blood.

That process could begin with the signing of Taribo West, the 24-year-old Nigerian international. Michel Basilevitch, West's adviser, travelled to England last weekend and is believed to have initiated discussions with representatives from both Liverpool and Newcastle.

West's future with Inter Milan has been the subject of speculation since Luigi Simone was dismissed as the Inter coach a fortnight ago and he threw his shirt in the direction of new coach Mircea Lucescu after being substituted last Sunday.

Cameroon defender Dagobert Song, 22, struggling to make an impact with Italian first division side Salernitana, is also being linked with a move to Anfield. Song joined Salernitana in the Summer from Metz.

``We are going through a difficult period and it is going to need one of the best performances by this club in Europe for a long time to get us through against what is a very good Celta team,'' said Houlier.

``We know we are going to have to do it without some of our best players, so we have to compensate. Pride is going to be a big factor and our supporters will also have a significant role.''

Houllier is hoping that Robbie Fowler responds to captaining the team for the first time by producing the type of display which brought about the 4-2 Villa Park scoreline.

Fowler, handed the captain's armband because Liverpool's three other skippers this season are all suspended, said: ``To be asked to captain this club is really something special. I'm chuffed to bits about it.''

The absence of Paul Ince, sent off in the last round against Valencia for getting involved in someone else's squabble, Steve McManaman, for a rare demonstration of his fighting qualities, and Jamie Redknapp, who picked up a second yellow card for taking a free kick too quickly, leaves Liverpool without their first-choice midfield trio. And, with Veggard Heggem also suspended, Houlier has an enormous selection headache.

STRETCHED

Dismissing the idea of moving Jamie Carragher from central defence into midfield and suggesting that Jason McAteer, if fit, will be deployed as a wing-back, he is stretched to the limit for 'engine room' manpower.

Danny Murphy, under-employed since a £1.5 million transfer from Crewe 17 months ago, is a candidate to partner the pugnacious David Thompson and Patrik Berger.

Vigo, beaten only once in Spain this season their other defeat was at home to Villa in the last European round arrived on Merseyside last night confident of repeating their excellent Villa Park triumph.

Alexandre Mostovoi, the Russian striker who scored the first of their three goals a fortnight ago, was one of two players mentioned by Houllier as particularly dangerous. Mazinho, a key midfielder in Brazil's 1994 World Cup triumph, is the other.

Ian Ferguson will be the key man as Rangers bid to reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup at Inter Milan's expense.

The 31-year-old midfielder, with 10 years service at Ibrox under his belt, has been given the daunting task of man-marking Argentinian star Juan Veron, who set up Parma's goal for Abel Balboa in the 1-1 draw at Ibrox a fortnight ago.

Ferguson has spent most of his Scottish Premier League life this season on the bench but has thrived when given his chance in Europe and his ball-winning skills and ability to retain possession under pressure will be vital in the white-hot atmosphere of the Tardini stadium, where Rangers must score to advance.

Parma, who beat Sampdoria 2-0 away on Sunday and hammered AC Milan 4-0 the previous week, are boosted by the return of hot-shot Enrico Chiesa, who has scored three times in the team's last two games after missing the game at Ibrox through injury.

Daily Telegraph

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