Crucial spell ahead for Houllier

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

Gerard Houllier is steeling himself for the most demanding spell of his Liverpool 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 can ask questions of even the strongest of clubs.

Liverpool, who face a difficult Premiership trip to Chelsea tomorrow, face an arduous spell at the end of October and the beginning of November during which they will face six high-profile matches. They must face Leicester, the Czech Cup holders Slovan Liberec home and away in the Uefa Cup second round, Everton, then Chelsea in the Worthington Cup, and Leeds away in the Premiership all in 20 days.

Houllier knows that his £56m Anfield make-over will be judged over that period. 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."

The trip to the Czech Republic follows Thursday's unconvincing Uefa Cup success over Rapid Bucharest. There is a chance the game may not actually be played in Liberec, a small town near the Polish border, as Liverpool are concerned about the lack of floodlights, and, with the game likely to be televised, the small Czech club could be persuaded to switch the game to Prague, around 70 miles away.

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 duo Patrik Berger and Vladimir Smicer were both delighted with the draw, and believe their side 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 are looking forward to it."

The Uefa draw diverted attention somewhat from tomorrow'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 infamous 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.

"But there have 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 an injury should play two games in four days."

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