By Patrick Hart
Liverpool FC manager Gérard Houllier has warned against underestimating Group B opponents FC Basel as the English side prepare to open their home UEFA Champions League campaign against the Swiss double winners tonight.
'A very good team'
Basel have impressed on their Champions League debut, winning their first group game 2-0 against FC Spartak Moskva after shocking Celtic FC in the final qualifying round. But Houllier has not been surprised by their excellent run of results. "They are not just a little team from Switzerland - Basel are a very good team," he said. "I knew they would beat Spartak. They have four or five very good players, including their attacking trio of Hakan Yakin, [Julio Hernán] Rossi and [Christian] Giménez."
Houllier also praised coach Christian Gross, who had nine troubled months in charge of Tottenham Hotspur FC in 1997 and 1998. "Christian Gross is someone I like as a man and as a coach," he said. "He has proved in Switzerland that the Spurs move wasn't illogical."
Ironically, Gross has put his recent success down to his stay in the English Premiership. "My time there helped to make me a stronger person so I am grateful for that and the benefit can be seen now with the job I am doing at Basel," he said.
Reds to bounce back
Tottenham's loss might have been Basel's gain, but the Saint Jakob team can expect no more favours from English clubs. Liverpool lost just two of 14 games in last season's competition, and will be loathe to add to the 2-0 defeat by Valencia CF as Anfield celebrates its 100th European match night. "This gives us a platform to bounce back," said Houllier. "But we have to adjust - three players made their Champions League debuts last week, while the rest have played only ten to 15 games at that level."
One of the new boys, Czech Republic striker Milan Baroš, scored in the 2-0 weekend victory over West Bromwich Albion FC which took the Merseysiders to second place in the Premiership. But it is Michael Owen who makes Gross "very wary", even though the English international is yet to score from open play this season.
Yakin on target
Finding the net has been no problem for Basel, who had scored 14 times in three league games before Saturday's 1-1 draw at Neuchâtel Xamax FC. Yakin, who was on target against Spartak, was rested for that match but should return. However, midfield player Antonio Esposito is suspended along with his Liverpool counterpart Dietmar Hamann.
Basel may be the bright young things of Group F but the weight of history is with the home team. Liverpool have won five of six matches against Swiss clubs in European competition. Perhaps even more ominous the fact that Basel's last appearance at this level was in 1980/81 - the year Liverpool carried off the European Champion Clubs' Cup.
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