Liverpool pay price for Owen rest day

LIVERPOOL CONFRONT an unenviable second leg of this Uefa cup second round tie in Spain consoled by the knowledge that it could have been a futile trip. Valencia ought to have rendered the return academic.

European nights of red passion and fantasy, and cowering opposition at Anfield are now just a distant image. Even the kit was different last night, the white of a pale imitation.

Liverpool chose to leave out the supposedly overworked and over-exposed Michael Owen for the first time in almost a year and play the more worldly- wise, and taller, Karlheinz Riedle alongside Robbie Fowler, presumably to exploit the supposed weakness of a side languishing 16th in the Spanish league.

In the event, Valencia's defence was more than capable of resisting Liverpool's naive reliance on high crosses, and on the break demonstrated a subtlety and penetration that should have yielded at least two away goals. Only careless finishing and resourceful goalkeeping by the much-maligned David James spared Liverpool an embarrassing and potentially decisive defeat. Gabriel Popescu and Romania's vaunted world-cup striker, Adrian Ilie were chief among Valencia's culprits.

Liverpool's response in that harrowing second half was limited to a volley by Paul Ince, which cleared the bar, and a half-chance which the belatedly summoned Owen directed still higher over the target.

The absence of another England international, Jamie Redknapp, in midfield, palpably diminished Liverpool's constructive prowess but they were perhaps taken aback by the enterprise of the Spaniards.That positive intent stifled Liverpool's game and left an expectant crowd subdued. It was all they could do to summon a few howls of derision at the end.

Liverpool's managerial partners, Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier, tried their utmost to see the brighter side. Evans said: "It's the best kind of draw. If we get a goal over there it puts pressure on them. Michael has played so many games we felt there was a bit of tiredness showing. He's taken the weight of Liverpool and England on his shoulders. He's a priceless asset, not just for a week but for a long time." Houllier added: "We had some chances, and they did also."

Valencia demonstrated that ability in the third minute and Miguel Angulo might have made more of his opportunity. The pattern of the night was established.

Riedle had a header cleared off the line and Patrik Berger a shot tipped over, but in the main their optimism fed off a diet of speculative punts into the area.

Valencia were much the more imaginative of the sides and James had to react smartly to block Claudio Lopez and Ilie. Popescu alone will know how he managed to sky a chance presented by Lopez and Ilie was similarly bewildering in his profligacy 10 minutes from the end. The captain, Gaiszka Mendieta exercised James a final time and again the goalkeeper was equal to the task, turning away the free-kick.

Copyright - The Independent

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