By Richard Whittle
Liverpool FC welcome FC Spartak Moskva to Anfield on Wednesday night fully aware that the loss of any further home points could seriously endanger their hopes of progress beyond the first group stage.
The English Premiership side, who reached the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals last season, have made a stuttering start to their European campaign this time around, taking only one point from their first two Group B encounters. A 2-0 defeat at Valencia CF was followed by a disappointing home draw with FC Basel last week.
Manager Gérard Houllier was not too despondent after dropping two points to the Swiss side despite producing only one strike - through Milan Baroš - from 27 attempts on goal. He said: "We created enough chances to win. We tried everything - the goalkeeper and posts saved them on a few occasions."
Owen back on form
Michael Owen's failure to find the net saw the striker extend his longest run without a goal for the club to nine games. The England international, however, returned to form in the league last Saturday with a hat-trick in the 3-0 victory at Manchester City FC. Houllier was thrilled that his chief marksman was back in the goals. He said: "Michael knew he had the 100 per cent support of everyone at the club during his lean spell. He hasn't been the happiest man in training on the days after he's missed chances but other than that there's been no evidence of the situation affecting him."
Hamann to return
Midfield player Dietmar Hamann is set to return following a one-match suspension, but Stéphane Henchoz is still struggling with a hamstring injury, which kept him out of action last weekend. Midfield player Vladimir Šmicer is out with a broken toe and full-back Abel Xavier is suffering from a virus.
Spartak have failed to take a point or score a goal in their opening two fixtures and have now gone 13 games without a victory in the competition. A 3-0 home defeat by group leaders Valencia last week heightened speculation that coach Oleg Romantsev would be replaced, with Grigory Yartsev, who took the club to a domestic title in 1996, reportedly set to take over.
Key players missing
Spartak did not play at the weekend in the Russian Premier-Liga, and have all but conceded the championship for the first time since 1995. Captain Yegor Titov and defender Dmytro Parfionov both miss the game through injury while striker Dmitri Sytchev is serving a four-month ban.
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