Liverpool 2003/04 Preview
By Peter O`Rourke
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Despite beating arch-rivals Manchester United to win the Worthington Cup, missing out on qualification to the lucrative Champions League by finishing fifth rendered the season a failure.
An alarming drop in form between November in March saw Liverpool fall from the top of The Premiership and they will be keen not to have a repeat of that slump this year.
Heavily criticised for the team's lack of flair and width, Houllier has addressed the problem by bringing in Harry Kewell in a cut-price deal from Leeds and Republic of Ireland defender Steve Finnan from Fulham.
Houllier will hope that both men can add something to Liverpool's somewhat one-dimensional attacking play by helping cure their poor home record of last season where they dropped an alarming 22 points last term.
The signing of Australian ace Kewell has got the whole of Anfield buzzing, and it is hoped that the skilful forward can chip in with some goals to take the burden off Michael Owen having scored 16 goals in a disappointing Leeds side last season.
French youngsters Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Anthony Le Tallec also arrive at Anfield after spending last season at Le Havre with the pair tipped for bright futures.
The young duo have impressed in pre-season and they could be pushing for a place in Houllier's first team plans even though this season has been earmarked as a time to let them adapt to life in England.
Houllier has also bolstered his defence by signing promising defender Carl Medjani from St Etienne, but the rearguard will be boosted by the return of a fully fit Stephane Henchoz after a series of injuries last season.
Last summer's arrivals El-Hadji Diouf, Salif Diao and Bruno Cheyrou all have a point to prove after disappointing debut campaigns, while for the likes of Emile Heskey and Vladimir Smicer it could be their last chance to impress.
Liverpool's hopes will depend much on the form and fitness of England duo Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard.
Much of the responsibility of scoring goals for the side will rest on Owen's shoulders, while Gerrard will be the focal point of the midfield and, if both can steer clear of injury, they can guide Liverpool back into the Champions League or better.
Star Man: Michael Owen
One to watch: Anthony Le Tallec
Ins: Steve Finnan (Fulham), Harry Kewell (Leeds), Anthony Le Tallec, Florent Sinama-Pongolle (both Le Havre), Carl Medjani (St Etienne).
Outs: Pegguy Arphexad (Released), Patrik Berger (Portsmouth), Stephen Warnock (Coventry, loan), Andrew Nicholas (Swindon), Bernard Diomede (Ajaccio), Vegard Heggem (Released)
Sky Bet odds: 8/1