Houllier to focus fearless Liverpool on attack

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The Independent Football

Torrential rain, thunder and lightning created an apocalyptic backdrop to Liverpool's arrival here yesterday, but Gérard Houllier remained confident that it would be the storm before the calm, assertive performance Liverpool seek in order to start their second Champions' League campaign with a positive result against Valencia tonight.

Torrential rain, thunder and lightning created an apocalyptic backdrop to Liverpool's arrival here yesterday, but Gérard Houllier remained confident that it would be the storm before the calm, assertive performance Liverpool seek in order to start their second Champions' League campaign with a positive result against Valencia tonight.

Houllier, vilified for Liverpool's obdurate defensive displays on their last two visits to Spain to play Barcelona, promised they would bring to the Continental stage the attacking approach that has seen them average two goals a game in the Premiership. "We will go for the win, I can assure you of that," the Liverpool manager said. "We have to attack. That is our way."

Fighting talk, reflecting Houllier's belief that Liverpool can make a more sustained impact in Europe this season. Although Spanish sides have dominated the tournament in recent seasons, with Real Madrid winning the trophy twice in four years and Valencia reaching the final on two occasions, he saw no reason for their English counterparts to fear opponents from any country in Europe.

Echoing the thoughts of Arsène Wenger in relation to Arsenal's games with Bayer Leverkusen last season – one won handsomely, the other a draw in which the Germans equalised in stoppage time – Houllier argued that neither Liverpool nor Manchester United had been outclassed by the eventual finalists from Germany in the quarter and semi-finals respectively. "It will come for the English teams," he said.

Liverpool left it until the final fixture of each group stage last season before confirming their advance. This time, progress ought to come more easily. The players now have experience of the demands of the competition, and have been bolstered by some impressive signings. Moreover, the draw was relatively kind, pitting them against Spartak Moscow and the Swiss team Basle as well as the Spanish champions.

Tonight's encounter in the Mestalla Stadium brings together the favourites to qualify for the last 16. That perception is strengthened by Valencia's leadership of the embryonic Spanish table with maximum points and a 5-0 goal difference from two games, not to mention Liverpool's unbeaten start in the Premiership. Both teams, however, are still some way off their best form.

Valencia are mired in debt and scandals. In between their opening Liga victories, 2-0 at Real Mallorca and a flattering 3-0 against promoted Recreativo Huelva, they toiled to a barren draw with Third Division opposition over 120 minutes of cup football. They also lost 4-0 on aggregate to Deportivo La Coruña in the Spanish Super Cup, while the two late goals by the former Fulham target John Carew last weekend were the first by any of the club's strikers in five months.

Liverpool had similar problems with the finishing of their front players until Milan Baros and Emile Heskey scored in Saturday's 3-2 success at Bolton. Ironically, neither is likely to start in attack against Valencia, with Michael Owen and El Hadji Diouf poised to resume after a one-match rest. Houllier's only injury doubt concerns Stéphane Henchoz, whose recovery from a calf strain would help them regain the defensive cohesion that has been absent so far.

The fact that Owen, Jamie Carragher and Patrik Berger are the only three players who featured in Liverpool's last visit to Valencia, in the Uefa Cup four years ago, is a measure of the extent to which Houllier has stamped his authority on Anfield. On that occasion, the sides followed up a goalless stalemate on Merseyside with a 2-2 draw, which meant Liverpool won on away goals, but the match was marred by the dismissal of Steve McManaman and Paul Ince.

It was a good result but an evening which left a bad taste, recalled Houllier, hoping that if lightning is to strike twice, it will in the former rather than the latter respect.

Valencia (4-4-2; probable): Cañizares; Garrido, Ayala, Marchena, Carboni; Angulo, Albelda, Baraja, Vicente; Juan Sanchez, Salva.

Liverpool (4-4-2; probable): Dudek; Carragher, Henchoz or Traore, Hyypia, Riise; Murphy, Gerrard, Hamann, Heskey; Diouf, Owen.

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