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Press Association match report

This surely wasn't the night to give Michael Owen the well earned rest few would doubt he has needed these past few weeks.

Hindsight makes decisions easy and Liverpool's joint bosses were always going to be in a no-win situation over this one. You could be sure that the day they decided to leave Owen out, would be the day they needed his pace and predatory instincts the most. But he was left on the bench until the 73rd minute as Liverpool toiled for the advantage they were looking for to take into the second leg of this UEFA Cup tie in Spain in a fortnight.

But, after a goalless draw at Everton on Saturday, Liverpool drew another blank when their European future was on the line.

The form they have been searching for just wouldn't come back and they now face a Spanish inquisition in the intimidating Mestella stadium in two weeks' time.

There were some quality displays from the Merseysiders.

Steve McManaman down the left was a constant danger, Vegard Heggem at full back was outstanding, while Jamie Carragher stood up manfully to the exceptional attacking ability of Claudio Lopez.

But in the end a goalless draw was just the result Valencia wanted and Liverpool's UEFA Cup chances could well be snuffed out yet again at an early stage, similar to the defeat the suffered in Strasbourg last season.

Liverpool's joint bosses Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier had sprung a real shock in deciding to leave out Owen, despite having vehemently denied they were considering such an option just 24 hours earlier.

The England youngster had scored just two in his previous 11 club and international games but the more logical step to protect the teenager's tired limbs after so many months of hard graft for one so young, would surely have been to rest him next week in the Worthington Cup against Fulham, and have the full benefit of his skills in a first leg that Liverpool needed to win well.

He could even have been left out of the second leg in a fortnight when a more defensive formation may be the order of the day.

Karlheinz Riedle came in for Owen but the more telling loss for Liverpool was that of Jamie Redknapp, whose passing skills were desperately missed, replaced only by Jason McAteer's industry.

Valencia had Argentinian striker Lopez and Romanian World Cup star Adrian Ilie upfront, two men who finished on the winning sides over England in France '98.

It was something certainly not lost on Paul Ince, who would also recall defender Joachim Bjorklund, who was in Sweden's side that beat England last month - when the Liverpool skipper was sent off.

The pair just couldn't be left unattended for a second because they possessed the skill and technique to really embarrass Liverpool.

It was Lopez whose control and touch almost opened Liverpool up after just three minutes when his flick to Miguel Angulo created space for a fierce shot that was blocked.

Valencia dictated play early on and skipper Gaizka Mendieta blasted in a 20 yarder that David James palmed down before claiming. Liverpool hardly got out of their half at this point but they finally sprung into life when Patrik Berger sent McManaman away and only a fine saving tackle from Bjorklund stopped the England man.

That inspired Liverpool and from successive corners they almost scored. First a Steve Staunton flag kick was met by Riedle and his header was kicked off the line by Gabriel Popescu. Two minutes later Berger's corner was met by Ince, racing in, and his shot bounced down and up to clear the bar. Berger then saw a dipping drive tipped over by Santiago Canizares after a flowing Liverpool move on 25 minutes.

Liverpool, although coming into the game with growing confidence, were constantly worried by a Spanish side who were not just at Anfield to mount a 10 man defence and hope for a draw.

Their movement was worrying, the guile and positioning of Lopez more than a concern, and you could sense anxiety through Liverpool's ranks whenever Popescu came forward and tried to find the elusive Ilie.

Liverpool needed to step up the pace after the break and at last had Valencia rocking.

McManaman was attacking the Spanish right flank with increased desire and after 48 minutes produced a run and cross that was met by Ince surging into the box, his shot flying inches over the angle.

But Valencia were now able to counter attack at pace and Lopez got behind Carragher to hook a instinctive shot that James did well to parry.

Another lightening break ended with Heggem timing his tackle in the box to perfection to stop Ilie reaching a right wing cross.

Ilie then collected the ball some 30 yards out and sent a curling shot towards the top corner that James pulled down from under the bar.

Lopez again threatened to expose Liverpool's back line when he held off Staunton and laid the ball back for Popescu, who fired high over from just 12 yards.

Owen was finally plunged into the action with 17 minutes left, but by now Valencia were in little mood to give him much of a chance.

Liverpool had plenty of the ball, but created precious little, and Lopez was always a frightening predator as increasingly large spaces in the home defence started to appear.

Had it not been for James, Liverpool would have been out of it.

One superb flying save with four minutes to go, palming away a Mendieta free kick after a foul by Ince just outside the box, was the pick of a catalogue of fine saves in the second half.

Teams:

Liverpool: James, McAteer, Staunton, McManaman, Fowler (Owen 73), Riedle, Heggem, Berger (Leonhardsen 76), Ince, Bjornebye, Carragher.
Subs Not Used: Kvarme, Dundee, Friedel, Matteo, Thompson.

Valencia CF: Canizares, Djukic, Mendieta, Lopez, Illie (Lucdrelli 84), Bjorklund, Carboni, Roche (Soria 86), Popescu, Milla (Farinos 81), Angulo.
Subs Not Used: Bartual, Garcia, Morigi, Tellez.
Booked: Angulo.
Ref: Livio Bazzoli (Italy).

Copyright - Press Association

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