Football: Liverpool must tighten up

Guy Hodgson on the lessons that must be learned from the Sion show
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The Independent Online
The Sion coach was encouraging, but unwilling to reach for over- bold predictions. What chance do Liverpool have of winning the European Cup-Winners' Cup? "Good" Alberto Bigon replied. "They are among the top three of four teams in the competition. I do not know how they would do against the others."

His reservations were shared by his Liverpool counterpart, Roy Evans, who was relieved to put a step into his spring by qualifying for the quarter- finals next March but was aghast at the defending of his team. Do not be fooled by the apparent one-sided nature of Thursday's 6-3 win or the 8-4 aggregate, they were mighty close to going out of the competition. Down 2-0 after 22 minutes at Anfield and behind again later on away goals, Liverpool's sloppy marking and tackling put their European ambitions in jeopardy before they exploited a tiring Swiss opposition to score four times in the last half hour.

Even then, if John Barnes had not replied immediately to Frederic Chassot's goal that put Sion 3-2 ahead on the night, who knows what the tension would have done to the home side's limbs?

Certainly, Evans was less than euphoric. He was pleased to have reached the quarter- finals but he added: "You can't defend like that against the top sides in Europe. Taking the whole thing into context, we were lucky to get away with it."

Liverpool's main problem was their right flank, where Jason McAteer's willingness to push forward was not compensated for by an equal eagerness to track back, or by John Scales' covering. Fortunately for Scales and his fellow defenders, their wrongs were rectified by the attack, principally Steve McManaman.

The England winger has an infuriating inclination to mislay the final ball after causing carnage with his dribbling, but on Thursday he was exemplary. Pushed ahead of Patrik Berger when Liverpool went 2-0 down, he bewitched Sion's rearguard, scoring one goal and playing a part in three others.

Coming on top of an outstanding performance in Switzerland, there was little surprise that Bigon singled out McManaman, along with Berger, for praise. "They are the players the others look to. The others play for them and off them."

As to how Evans shores a defence that also looked fragile in the Coca- Cola Cup against Charlton, he has obvious alternatives in Neil Ruddock and Mark Wright. The latter, who is on the mend from a broken cheekbone, is probably more important, because his advice and covering is acknowledged by McAteer as an important factor in his conversion to a wing-back.