Thompson ensures Liverpool put defensive priorities first

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The Independent Football

As a member of the Liverpool squad that lifted the European Cup four times, Phil Thompson is more aware than most of the qualities required to succeed on the Continent. And, while the game may have moved on in the two decades since he, together with Phil Neal, Alan Hansen and Alan Kennedy, held Europe's most potent forwards at bay, the need for a strong defence remains fundamental.

Last season it was not free-wheeling Real Madrid, who scored 35 goals in 16 ties, who reached the final. It was Valencia and Bayern Munich, who conceded just eight en route, 15 fewer than Real. The year before it was Barcelona who had produced the fireworks and fantasy, cracking 45 goals in 16 ties. But Valencia, conceding 15 goals to Barcelona's 23, knocked them out in the semi-finals. The old Liverpool, the one that conceded just 18 goals during their four victorious campaigns combined, would have approved.

However, with a greater emphasis placed on entertainment these days, not everyone is impressed. Fabio Capello was the leading dissenter this week and Thompson, now Liverpool's caretaker manager, was still chuntering about the Roma coach when he left the Eternal City yesterday.

"What he said was disrespectful," said Thompson, sounding like a mafia capo as he referred to Capello's insistence that Liverpool's only gameplan was counter-attacking. "We have got a Plan B. We are not robots."

Plan A is the early ball, usually to Michael Owen or Emile Heskey. Plan B was never unveiled in Wednesday night's goalless draw. While Liverpool did show plenty of attacking brio in the opening period, Roma's habit of breaking up any promising move with a petty foul meant attacks usually resulted in set-piece opportunities – which, like Roma, they singularly failed to take.

Not that Roma were much more adventurous. Capello's curious decision to leave Marco Delvecchio on the bench throughout meant they lacked pace and numbers in attack, with Gabriel Batistuta frequently isolated as Francesco Totti probed for an opening from deep. Even after a game dominated by defenders the Roman press remained obsessed with comparing Totti and Owen when the match only underlined that this was not comparing like with like. The thought occurred, as it probably did to Capello and Thompson, that Totti and Owen would make a formidable pairing.

Since Roma are no more likely to sell their best asset than Liverpool, Thompson and Gérard Houllier, who may be back in charge when the Champions' League resumes in February, must look elsewhere to replace Robbie Fowler. They have until 31 January to register up to three new signings for use in their remaining Champions' League ties. Milan Baros, the 20-year-old Czech forward who should soon receive the work permit required to complete his transfer from Banik Ostrava, is likely to be one but Liverpool would also like to register a more experienced striker. David Trézéguet has been linked with the club but, as well as the improbability of prising him away from Juventus, he is already cup-tied. The search will go on. As Valencia, beaten in both finals, ultimately discovered, a good defence can only get you so far.

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