Liverpool's 2-1 defeat at home by Coventry City last Sunday illustrated again their capacity for carelessness, a foible that can cost so dearly in Europe though hitherto not seriously challenged by a side as proficient as Paris St-Germain. Maddeningly for them, it followed their splendid 2-1 victory at Arsenal when their superiority was all but overlooked by the foul and Fowler debate.
"I really couldn't spot any weaknesses at all," said the PSG general manager, Joel Bats, departing Anfield last weekend. Then again, he did so at 1-1 before David James did his stuff once more."They have so many aces up their sleeve," Bats added of the other side of their character. English hopes rest on the latter being the dominant Liverpool trait tonight.
"Our heads are back up," insists the Liverpool manager, Roy Evans, and indeed they should be confident enough, given PSG's season of some turmoil. Though holders of the trophy, they were comfortably beaten by Juventus in the Super Cup, conceding six goals at home. For the four previous years, PSG had always met their match in the semi-final in Europe, losing on the away-goals rule, as Arsenal will recall in 1994. "If that's on their minds, all well and good," Evans said.
Neither are PSG the team they were a few years ago when George Weah, David Ginola and Youri Djorkaeff bestrode the Parc. Much will rest on Patrice Loko, scorer of a hat-trick in the quarter-final against AEK Athens, with their Brazilian striker Leonardo likely to play only with an injection to kill the pain of a groin strain.
In defence, Didier Domi and Bruno N'Gotty are doubts with back and thigh injuries respectively, while Bernard Lama will play with the probability of suspension for cannabis use hanging over him.
In addition, in Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler et al, the patient passers of Liverpool possess a range of players always likely to grab the crucial away goal - more important now than ever, it seems, with more and more teams adept at the contain-and-counter game. Attack is therefore likely to be Liverpool's best form of defence.
"We must try and win both legs," Evans said. "It is not like it used to be in Europe any more. Every team is capable of scoring an away goal." He will recall Mark Wright, suspended last Sunday, to replace the ineligible Bjorn Tore Kvarme in defence. Further forward, Patrik Berger could consign Stan Collymore to the bench once more. Berger is seen as the more appropriate in a 4-5-1 formation.
That, at least, contains echoes of the way it used to be in Europe, with Liverpool often withdrawing Kenny Dalglish into the midfield behind Ian Rush for away legs. They will hope for another; yesterday Liverpool installed themselves in the same hotel in Versailles they used before the European Cup final of 1981, when they beat Real Madrid 1-0.