Football: Senior service can provide spark for Souness

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A CITY synonymous with revolution will tonight provide a fascinating examination of Liverpool's evolution under Graeme Souness, as the FA Cup holders match their improving form against a Moscow Spartak side fresh from clinching the Russian championship.

In the first round of the Cup- Winners' Cup, as in last season's Uefa Cup, the Liverpool manager was forced by injuries and the rule on 'foreigners' to field a strange- looking line-up. While there are still important absentees - Barnes, Whelan and Stewart among them - the squad of 16 for tonight's second round, first leg is comprised entirely of senior players.

Of the team which drew at Manchester United on Sunday - 24 hours after Spartak beat Lokomotiv Moscow 4-1 to take their 13th title - only Jan Molby (ankle) and Torben Piechnik (ineligible) did not travel. This time, instead of patching up with teenagers barely accustomed to the rigours of the Pontins League, Souness can call on three England internationals.

Only two, Mark Wright and Michael Thomas, are certain starters. Wright, who suffered a thigh injury during Liverpool's almost-forgotten run of calamities against Chesterfield, Aston Villa and Wimbledon a month ago, will replace Piechnik. Thomas, the former Arsenal midfielder, is set to make his European debut as Molby's deputy.

Rob Jones, ready to resume after an operation for shin splints, may have to be content with a place on the bench, Souness having hinted yesterday that he is a little short of peak condition. The only other change is likely to be a tactical one, Mark Walters coming into a five- man midfield with Ronny Rosenthal dropping out to leave Ian Rush as a solo strike force.

Souness has had 'glowing reports' on Spartak from his chief scout, Ron Yeats, although he will be aware that they have lost key players, notably Igor Shalimov to Italy, since reaching the European Cup semi-finals in 1991. Spartak also accounted for Arsenal and Villa, winning both away legs, in Uefa Cup ties during the 1980s.

Steve Nicol, who retains the captaincy despite Wright's availability, said he would settle for a 0-0 draw. Ian Rush, 31 on Tuesday and now Liverpool's all-time record scorer, said more positively that he felt they could 'nick a goal'.

It seems odd to hear Liverpool players almost talking down their prospects. Before the ban that followed Heysel, they expected to go all the way in Europe. But Moscow is no place to press the case for remorseless rule in any sphere. The State Department Store and the Hammer & Sickle Steelworks, for example, have new post-communist names; and the Lenin Stadium, where the match will be played, is now the Central Stadium.

Curiously, while this is Liverpool's first fixture in Moscow during 23 Continental campaigns, it is not exactly alien territory for the British. The first Russian club were formed, it transpires, by the English managers of the city's cotton mill in pre-Soviet times - and they were Lancastrians to boot.

Liverpool (probable): Grobbelaar; Marsh, Nicol, Wright, Burrows, Hutchison, Redknapp, Thomas, McManaman, Rush, Walters.

Liverpool are to cut seat prices for the second leg against Spartak Moscow by up to 15 per cent in an attempt to encourage more fans to Anfield after only 12,000 turned up for their last European home game, with Apollon Limassol.