Football: Houllier hopes Vigo will be complacent

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The Independent Online
WHEN GERARD HOULLIER finished lambasting his team for their defending in Spain two weeks ago, he contrived to salvage a morsel as he sifted through the wreckage of Liverpool's Uefa Cup third-round tie. It was not much, admittedly, but the last resort for a well-beaten team in a two- match contest is to wish complacency on their opponents.

Houllier believed, or more probably hoped, that Celta Vigo's 3-1 victory would lead to over-confidence that could be pricked with a rousing performance at Anfield. Tonight Liverpool need to be the team who can rip apart even the best of defences - their mistake-ridden, careless alter ego cannot appear if they are to reach the quarter-finals.

"The positive thing is that we scored, which will be very important in the return leg," Houllier said. "Celta think the game is finished. They think they have gone through. We don't think so. We have a chance."

That chance looks a reasonable one on paper because a 2-0 scoreline is within Liverpool's compass. Celta's defence is prone to flatness, as Michael Owen proved when he put the visitors ahead in Spain, and Anfield can bristle with inhibition- inducing hostility. The question is whether a fragile home defence will be able to nullify an attack which would have put the tie beyond doubt in Vigo but for two outstanding saves from David James. The answer is probably no.

Two of Celta's goals were justly described as "schoolboy errors" by Houllier, and defensive mistakes at this level are usually the product of experience. There was over-anxiety in the Liverpool rearguard that had been put there because Alexander Mostovoi, Mazinho, Valery Karpin and Juan Sanchez had been repeatedly reminding them of their inferiority.

You cannot imagine Liverpool surviving 90 minutes intact tonight against a side who look made to counter. Aston Villa beat Celta 1-0 in Spain and still lost 3-1 at Villa Park in the last round and, unless the home team tonight can create tensions of their own with an early goal, the fear is they will be punished as they are forced to gamble by pressing forward.

Even with a full-strength team it would be a tall order, but Liverpool will be diminished. Jamie Redknapp and Vegard Heggem collected their second yellow cards of the competition in Spain and join Paul Ince and Steve McManaman in being suspended, which will leave Liverpool akin to a set of a Western movie: an impressive front with not very much behind. As Houllier conceded: "It is a mountain to climb."

Leading from that front will be Robbie Fowler, who will be captain for the first time tonight. That might mean little in view of the absentees, but it does reflect a growing confidence in him, both in terms of fitness and maturity, at Anfield. The young man who has admitted to irresponsibility in the past is growing up.