Liverpool place trust in return of Fowler

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Of the football matches staged on Merseyside this week, the arrival of Slovan Liberec at Anfield will have rather less impact than Sunday's fixture that pitches Liverpool against Everton.

Of the football matches staged on Merseyside this week, the arrival of Slovan Liberec at Anfield will have rather less impact than Sunday's fixture that pitches Liverpool against Everton.

Although, as a Scouser, the Merseyside derby means everything to Robbie Fowler, what should be a routine second-round game in the Uefa Cup will give the Liverpool striker an opportunity to find the net, something he has not done at Anfield since disposing of Wimbledon in December.

Michael Owen, who Gérard Houllier said had still not fully recovered following the head wound he sustained at Derby, will not be risked, since he will be needed in rather more pressing games against Everton, Chelsea and Leeds.

"Michael will not be involved against the Czechs," said the Liverpool manager. "We are being cautious over his injury. He is okay and I could have had him on the bench. But when he resumed training he felt a tiredness and stiffness in his legs and I decided to keep him out to make sure he is fresh when he does come back.

"We will have to wait and see whether he is any better in the coming days. It's ironic that I haven't really had Michael, Robbie [Fowler] and Emile [Heskey] all fit at the same time since Emile joined. It shows why clubs need a lot of players. It would have been nice to have all three available."

Fowler played his first competitive match of the season in the previous round of the competition, a dire goalless draw with Rapid Bucharest in which he looked unsurprisingly rusty.

"A few good touches, a few bad ones; you expect that after what I've been through," was how he summed it up. Both at Pride Park and against Leicester on Saturday, the man rated by many managers as the Premiership's most natural goalscorer spurned glaring opportunities and this evening should provide him with others.

Houllier made the usual noises about not underestimating an almost entirely unknown team. "They must not be taken lightly," he said. "The Czechs have a good reputation and their national side is well placed in the Fifa rankings."

Patrik Berger, however, was rather more dismissive of his countrymen's chances: "We should be too good for them. We have better players and more quality throughout the side, so hopefully there will not be any problem."

Berger has a point. Liberec, who were knocked off the top of the table by Sparta Prague at the weekend, have not much of a pedigree in Czech let alone international football. They have never won their own league and qualified for the Uefa Cup by picking up their first major trophy - the Czech Cup - by beating Ratiskovice, who were not even in the First Division.

This fixture is the European equivalent of being drawn against Rotherham and, in order to encourage a substantial crowd, prices have been reduced to £13, an experiment that was tried successfully for the visit of Rapid Bucharest.

Nevertheless, Liberec's very remoteness means a substantial victory is imperative tonight. Liverpool will have to travel to a small ground in the rough-hewn northern coalfields of the Czech Republic which will have temporary floodlighting for the occasion.

Before taking this step into the unknown, they will assuredly want to settle this tie at Anfield, where this season they remain undefeated.

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