Liverpool looking to relive joyous German experiences

Click to follow
The Independent Football

If happy memories could be translated into goals, Liverpool would be assured of a resounding victory over Borussia Dortmund in their second fixture in Group B of the Champions' League here tonight.

The last time they played in the Westfalen Stadium, in late May, Gérard Houllier's side brought European silverware back to Anfield after a 16-year absence by beating the Spanish club Alaves 5-4 with a golden (own) goal deep in extra time in the Uefa Cup final.

Perhaps more pertinently, Liverpool defeated the European and German champions, Bayern Munich, 3-2 to win the Super Cup in Monte Carlo last month. As if that blow to Teutonic self-esteem were not enough, they promptly provided six of the England players who recorded a 5-1 rout of Germany in an unforgettable World Cup qualifier in Munich.

Given that three Liverpool men, Michael Owen, Emile Heskey and Steven Gerrard, scored all the goals in Bavaria, it would be reasonable to assume that Mattias Sammer's defenders await the game with trepidation. Yet where Sir Alex Ferguson would surely have strewn salt in the wounds with a few carefully chosen words, Houllier was surprisingly disinclined to play the psychological card.

"This is a different war as far as I am concerned," the Liverpool manager said, using one of his less judicious analogies. "I like us to be confident but there is no psychological edge to be gained from what's gone before. In fact, the Germans may feel they have a big point to prove against us.

"What will give my players confidence is what went on at Everton on Saturday. By beating them 3-1 we showed the kind of mental, physical and technical strength I know we're capable of. After the way we started the season, winning a derby so well has really lifted the players."

The German media certainly appear obsessed by the threat of Owen. "Is he up for this game?" a reporter asked Houllier. "He doesn't even know if he is going to be playing," replied the Frenchman, eyes twinkling impishly.

Only one Dortmund player, the defender Christian Wörns, was in the German side vanquished by England, the experience being sufficiently harrowing for him to consider calling time on his international career. Jens Lehmann, goalkeeping understudy to Oliver Kahn with Rudi Völler's team, can hardly play worse than the Bayern man did that night.

Dortmund are not the force they were four years ago, when they won the competition under Ottmar Hitzfeld's stewardship. Sammer, libero in Germany's Euro 96-winning team, led them to third place in his first season as coach, and while they are currently fourth, the weekend's Rhine derby defeat by Schalke 04 was their third in four games and left them six points off the summit.

They are, however, steeped in the Champions' League in a way that Liverpool, for all their success in the original European Cup and in last season's Uefa Cup, are not. Now in their fifth campaign in the decade since the old two-leg, knock-out basis of the tournament was set aside until the quarter-final stages, they boast the 10th best record among the continent's élite clubs.

Sammer can still call on a number of the players who defeated Juventus to win the giant trophy four years ago, among them Lars Ricken, a teenaged goalscoring substitute on that occasion, and Jürgen Kohler, although the formidable centre-back may not be relishing a night against the darting thrusts of Owen and Heskey a month before he hits 36.

Stefan Reuter, who will be 35 days after his fellow veteran, suffered a "dead" leg at Schalke and faces a fitness test today, along with Lehmann (back strain). But if their back line looks vulnerable, the front two of the 6ft 7in Jan Koller and the Brazilian Marcio Amoroso have enough power and poise to cause problems for a strangely out-of-form Sami Hyypia. Liverpool, who left behind Markus Babbel (virus) and the former Dortmund midfielder Patrik Berger, who is recovering from surgery, are likely to recall Gary McAllister at the scene of his finest two hours in their colours. The delivery from the Scot and Gerrard to a striking duo whose pace lends itself perfectly to a counter-attacking strategy could be crucial.

Borussia Dortmund (4-4-2; probable): Lehmann; Evanilson, Wörns, Kohler, Dede; Reuter, Stevic, Ricken, Oliseh; Koller, Amoroso.

Liverpool (4-4-2; probable): Dudek; Carragher, Henchoz, Hyypia, Vignal; Gerrard, Hamann, McAllister, Riise; Owen, Heskey.

Referee: V Ivanov (Russia).