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By Jonathan Caswell
Liverpool FC will not be taking anything for granted when they welcome Olympique de Marseille in the UEFA Cup fourth round on Thursday night, especially given the form of Didier Drogba.
The French side warmed up for the first-leg match on Thursday night with a surprising 4-1 domestic reverse at the hands of lowly SC Bastia on Sunday night. Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier was back in his homeland for the game, which included a goal from on-loan Liverpool midfielder Alou Diarra, and said it would have no bearing on events at Anfield.
"I think their minds were on the Liverpool game rather than Bastia," said the Liverpool manager. "They had only just travelled back from Ukraine [after playing third-round opponents FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk last Wednesday] and I think the travel will have affected them. They will be a different team on Thursday."
Liverpool will be particularly wary of Drogba, who still managed to find the net against Bastia for his 23rd goal of the season. "In Didier Drogba they have one of the best goalscorers in the French league," warned Houllier. "Marseille are very strong offensively and we will have to be careful. No matter whether you are home or away first, the first leg is always the most significant. It would be useful if we can keep a clean sheet because if that happens we will be in a good position for the second leg."
Steve Finnan is set to keep his place, and the Irish defender reiterated the need for a solid rearguard. "The important thing is for us not to concede a goal against Marseille," the 27-year-old said. "If we can play well and maybe get a good lead to take over there then we are in with a great chance. With the attacking players we have we are always likely to score goals."
Young French striker Florent Sinama Pongolle has given Liverpool a boost by coming through a reserve match earlier this week but his compatriot Anthony Le Tallec will not figure after damaging an ankle in the same game. Vladimír Šmicer and Salif Diao are also out.
Mindful of the Bastia defeat, Marseille coach José Anigo warned his team against a repeat performance on Thursday. He said: "We must improve at Liverpool. We have to forget that match very quickly and go back to work. For me when you concede four goals there is nothing positive to gain.
"I don't know if we already had our minds on Anfield, but we were not in Bastia. [The result] was an accident. I hate losing and the players do too. But against Liverpool we will be extremely motivated.
I am counting on them to react with pride."
Anigo, who will be without the ineligible David Sommeil but will have former Manchester United FC goalkeeper Fabien Barthez in his lineup, is aware of what a scalp Liverpool's would be, but has found it unsettling that Houllier has come under pressure with the club losing just eight of 55 European games since he took over. "Consider what Gérard Houllier has done for Liverpool," added Anigo. "Yes, they are a great club, but fans should look at the list of trophies won."
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