Club Focus – Liverpool – Houllier returns to Anfield

Gerard Houllier returns to Anfield tonight as Liverpool take on the Frenchman’s youthful Aston Villa side. Houllier, who scooped a memorable trio of trophies at Liverpool in 2001, will receive a warm welcome from Reds fans. Rafael Benitez replaced Houllier as Liverpool manager in 2004, and the Spaniard’s tactical nous played a huge part in the Reds European success that season, however 12 of the 14 players used in the Champions League final were Houllier’s signings and that fact must never be forgotten.

Nevertheless, Houllier will be looking to lead his Villa side to victory tonight. Under his management, Villa have managed just one win in their last nine games and they also crashed out of the Carling Cup last week. The Midland side are hovering dangerously above the relegation zone and need more points on the board. Liverpool are in a similar position. Just two points ahead of their opponents, Roy Hodgson’s men are slowly but surely losing sight of the Premier League’s top four and need to pull their act together.

Home games carry extra significance for Liverpool these days and points gained at Anfield seem to be twice as valuable this season. This is down to the fact that the Reds have been so poor on their travels this campaign and if they are to continue to lose away games, then they must make sure that they are in top form on their own turf in order to stay in and around the Europa League places. Of course, Reds fans will want their team to finish significantly higher than that come the end of the season, but the truth is that Hodgson’s side are not realistically in a position to achieve those lofty aims at the moment and will need to instead concentrate on picking up points at home in order to make up for their failings elsewhere.

Liverpool will climb up into the Premier League’s top eight should they beat Villa tonight and that would leave the Reds four points off fifth-placed Tottenham. Although a win is by no means certain, Villa are not in good form and seem to be particularly frail in midfield. The combination of Meireles and Lucas has been reasonably impressive recently and providing they can continue to dominate in the centre of the park, Liverpool should be well on their way to securing victory. However, it must be remembered that the Reds are without some key players including Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, therefore this could be a tricky game for Hodgson’s men.

Meanwhile, the club’s new director of football strategy, Damien Comolli, has insisted that Roy Hodgson will make the final decision as to whether a player moves to Anfield or not. With the January transfer window looming, many fans were unsure who would be responsible for buying players, however the Frenchman has now confirmed the Reds boss will be the one in charge. Comolli also added that there could be some high-profile signings made by the club in January.

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