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By Patrick Hart
Liverpool FC will want to underline their claim as serious UEFA Champions League contenders when Valencia CF visit Merseyside on Wednesday. In the week manager Gérard Houllier spoke of bringing the famous European Champion Clubs' Cup trophy to Anfield for a fifth time, the Reds are seeking a win against the Group B leaders and reigning Spanish champions.
Liverpool insist they are ready to put into practice the lessons of the 2-0 defeat by Valencia on Matchday One. Midfield player Danny Murphy, a scorer in the weekend victory over Tottenham Hotspur FC which put them four points clear at the top of the Premiership, said: "We owe Valencia and want to show them that we are a good side and can compete at their level."
The ultimate goal
Meanwhile, Houllier believes the team's unbeaten start to the domestic season augurs well for the European challenges ahead. "The vision is to win the Champions League," he said. "You have priorities and the players would say that is the Premier League because Liverpool haven't won it since the format changed [in 1992]. But the Champions League is the ultimate goal." Right now, though, Houllier is more interested in regaining the services of English internationals Emile Heskey, missing against Tottenham, and Steven Gerrard, who hope to shrug off groin and hip injuries respectively.
Reds to jump queue
If Liverpool are crowned European champions again, they will retain the trophy. To do so, they must jump ahead of Valencia, finalists in 2000 and 2001, in an already over-subscribed queue. Valencia president Jaime Orti is determined not to let that happen. "We want to win at Anfield to show our ambition and our strength," he said. Los Che, who need only avoid defeat to secure top spot, lead second-placed Liverpool by three points with FC Basel a further two points behind.
Mustn't lose fixture
Rafael Benítez's men count the cost of last week's 2-2 draw against the Swiss team, with Argentinian defender Roberto Ayala serving a one-match ban for his red card in Basel. However, Ayala's compatriot Pablo Aimar returned from a shoulder injury with a hat-trick against Athletic Club Bilbao on Saturday and is expected to lead the attack alongside John Carew. "We go there with a lot of confidence," Aimar said. "It is a game nobody wants to lose and for an Argentinian it is always special to play in England."
A different Liverpool
Valencia's attacking style has set the standard in Group B. Chances are, though, the traffic will be more than one-way at Anfield on Wednesday night. As striker Juan Sánchez said: "Liverpool are going to be nothing like the team that came to the Mestalla - they will be much more aggressive and will be able to count on the support of the crowd. It will be difficult for us." Houllier would have it no other way.
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