Controversy over Liverpool's UEFA draw

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Liverpool have drawn Czech Cup holders Slovan Liberec in the second round of the UEFA Cup.

Liverpool have drawn Czech Cup holders Slovan Liberec in the second round of the UEFA Cup.

But the game is already being clouded in controversy, with Liverpool putting on pressure for the match to be moved.

The Merseyside giants are concerned about the lack of floodlights at the ground in the tiny town near the Polish border.

With the game likely to be the subject to a TV deal, the little Liberec club could be persuaded to switch the game to Prague, around 70 miles away.

Manager Gerard Houllier is steeling himself for the most demanding spell of his Anfield management career as the second anniversary of his appointment looms at the end of November.

Two cup draws in less than 24 hours have thrown up the sort of tough fixture congestion that would make most clubs fear for their form.

Liverpool, who face a tough Premiership trip to Chelsea on Sunday, are looking further ahead to a staggering 20 day spell at the end of October and the beginning of November that will see the club face six high-profile matches.

It will be the conclusion to Houllier's second year in control and the schedule dictated by Worthington Cup and UEFA Cup draws will test his squad to the maximum.

Liverpool must also face Leicester, Everton, Chelsea in the Worthington Cup and Leeds away in the Premiership all in 20 demanding days.

Houllier, who revealed that Emile Heskey should figure in the game at Stamford Bridge despite concerns over his knee, knows that his £56million Anfield make-over will be judged over that spell.

He said: "We have a very tough 20 days, all high profile matches, and now people will understand why we have spent so much to build-up our squad in numbers so we can cope with such demands."

Regarding the Slovan game, Houllier said: "Czech football has made great progress and Slovan have a reputation for cultured football, and we must be aware of how tough European football is."

However, Liverpool's Czech pair Patrik Berger and Vladimir Smicer were both delighted with the draw, and believe the Merseysiders will be more than capable of winning the tie.

Smicer said: "Liberec is a small city, with a small ground and has no airport and just a few hotels. On the football side we really should be favourites to win the tie.

"I am still coming back from injury, but I will determined to be fit for this one, Patrik and me will are looking forward to it.

"Liberec have made big strides recently, they won the cup last year, and they will be very keen to beat us, obviously. But I feel we have the players to go through."

The UEFA draw deflected somewhat from Sunday's trip to Chelsea, a match that could see Robbie Fowler and Graeme Le Saux on opposing sides for the first time at Stamford Bridge since their altercation two seasons ago.

But Houllier said: "That is for the past. Both players are professional enough to put it all behind them.

"They have both been in the same national squad together since and although they were both involved in something silly, I believe it is over now, finished."

Liverpool will face a Chelsea side still smarting from their UEFA Cup exit away to St Gallen on Thursday, and Houllier said: "We must be aware that there could be a backlash.

"They were surprisingly beaten in Europe and they will now want to concentrate on domestic competitions.

"But there has been changes there, and although I respect their new manager, they maybe are at a stage where it would be good for us to play them because they will not be quite right yet after the change of manager.

"But Chelsea did very well to draw with Manchester United recently, and we know we will always be involved in a very competitive game against them in London.

"We do, of course, have them back at Anfield in the Worthington Cup soon, so I am expecting two very exciting, tough matches."

Houllier may decide to shuffle his pack again after bringing back four players from injury against Rapid.

He said: "Robbie Fowler, Patrik Berger, Sami Hyypia and Vegard Heggem all returned and did well, but maybe it should not be that players just over injury should play two games in four days."

Houllier left Nick Barmby, Jamie Carragher, Stephane Henchoz and Christian Ziege on the bench against Bucharest and all four can expect to return to the starting line-up at Stamford Bridge.

Comments