Owen exit boosts Monaco
Michael Owen's departure from Liverpool may just have handed their rivals a crucial boost as they return to the Champions League.
That is certainly the opinion of Monaco manager Didier Deschamps, who admits he is relieved to be squaring up to a Liverpool side lacking Owen's talents on Wednesday night.
While the likes of Milan Baros and Djibril Cisse have the firepower to fill the boots of England's No.10 at Anfield, the perception of Liverpool to rivals on the continent may have softened after Owen's cut-price £8m switch to the Real Madrid last month.
Critics in England may suggest his ongoing injury problems and loss of form meant Liverpool were right to cash in on a player who had less than a year left on his contract, but the 2001 European Football of the Year still boasts a massive reputation on the continent.
The Champions League finalists of last season kick-off their European campaign with a trip to Anfield and while Deschamps is a huge admirer of Liverpool new-boy Cisse, he suggests the rest of Europe will look on Rafa Benitez's team in a different light after Owen's departure to Spain.
'A lot of people associated Liverpool and Owen together and now that they are parted, teams may be more comfortable before going to play at Anfield,' is the assessment of the former Chelsea midfielder who has risen to the top of the coaching tree in rapid fashion.
'I'm pleased that Liverpool no longer have Michael Owen in attack. He is a remarkable goal scorer, rapid and always sharp. Defenders are never safe with someone as opportunistic as him breathing down their neck. He would have been a problem for us in this game, but no more.
'It was a surprise to me when they agreed to sell him to Real Madrid. I believe he had some problems with his contract and I don't know the full story, but no one enjoys playing against Owen so he is a big loss for Liverpool.
'Even without him, they are far from short of top strikers. Baros showed what he can do at Euro 2004 and we know all about the ability of Djibril Cisse. Once he settles in England, I trust him to be a big success.
'Cisse is a rare talent. Powerful, athletic, quick and skilful and there's more to come from him. He's a confidence player and when he is on his game, he takes a lot of stopping and is a lot like Michael Owen in many ways.'
Deschamps faces a thankless task as he looks to build on last season's fairy tale run to the Champions League Final. Having lost the talents of Ludovic Giuly, Dado Prso and Fernando Morientes, the French side are a shadow of the outfit that dumped Real Madrid and Chelsea out of the competition a few months ago and their coach accepts a repeat success is unlikely.
The arrival of Javier Saviola from Barcelona is a boost, but they look short of being major contenders this time and they may not be favourites to emerge from a group featuring a host of tough sides. 'You have to say we've been drawn in a very tough first round pool,' states Deschamps.
'Deportivo and Liverpool have extensive experience at the highest level in Europe and Olympiakos will be dangerous, especially at home. We all saw the footballing ability and spirit of the Greeks in the summer. Also, they have signed Rivaldo, so there is no easy game for us this time.
'But everyone will wonder what Liverpool will bring to the Champions League. The visit to Anfield will be a major test for us. We are rebuilding after losing some of our most influential players and the new signings that we've brought in will take time to bed in.
'In some ways, Liverpool are in a similar transitional phase. Rafael Benitez is starting to impose his ideas and authority on the team. Benitez is a fine coach. I thought he did an outstanding job at one of my old clubs, Valencia.
'Two Spanish championships and a UEFA Cup speak for themselves. He's clearly a good organiser, knows exactly what he wants and sets his team up to play purposefully and attractively. But in a new country, it will not be easy for him to produce quick results.
'Liverpool have many, many strong individuals, players with a great pedigree. Hyypia is an extremely solid central defender, Baros is a talented striker, the German, Hamann, has a lot of experience and works intelligently to hold the midfield together. Then you have the young Spanish international Xabi Alonso, who looks a good prospect in the middle of the field.
'They are all dangerous, but Liverpool depend a lot on Steven Gerrard. He is their driving force. When he plays well, Liverpool play well. He does everything, tackles, passes long or short, gets forward, scores goals. Above all, I like him because of his spirit. He badly wants to win.
'We have to be strong mentally in Liverpool. Their crowd will get behind them and they will come at us from the first minute, hoping to pin us back. Being strong in these situations was our best quality last season and we have to hope this new Monaco team can build the same sort of spirit.'
Didier Deschamps is keen to play down his sides hopes of upsetting the Champions League odds once again, but having gone so close to the ultimate glory last time, Monaco will never be underestimated again.