Owen in contention to face Valencia
Sir Alex Ferguson has insisted that Michael Owen’s return of three goals in two games has not unnoticed as he prepares to name his starting line-up for tonight’s Champions League clash with Valencia in Spain.
Owen has started just one game for United this season – the 5-2 Carling Cup victory at Scunthorpe last Wednesday – and the former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Newcastle striker has admitted that his role as a fringe player is beginning to become a source of frustration.
The 2001 European Footballer of the Year has made 37 appearances for United since his free transfer from Newcastle in July 2009, but only 13 of those outings have been as a starter.
Owen delivered a statement of his continuing goal threat by scoring twice against Scunthorpe, however, and he underlined his predatory instinct with a point-saving header to earn a 2-2 draw against Bolton at the Reebok on Sunday.
With the injured Wayne Rooney sidelined and both Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes absent from the trip to Valencia, Ferguson’s squad appears worryingly light on experience and goals ahead of their clash with the La Liga leaders.
Ferguson is toying with a 4-5-1 formation in the Mestalla tonight that would see Dimitar Berbatov operate as a lone forward, but the United manager admits that Owen has forced his way into his plans with his recent form.
Ferguson said: “Michael’s contribution doesn’t go unnoticed. It was a fantastic goal against Bolton.
“He is fit and his training performances have been terrific ever since he joined us. But he is a really outstanding footballer and I think he’s improved since he came to our club.”
Having been held to a 0-0 draw by Rangers in their Group C opener at Old Trafford two weeks ago, United’s hopes of progression could suffer a damaging blow if they fail to emerge from the Mestalla with at least a point tonight.
History does not point to a United victory, however. In over 50 years of European competition, United have played 18 fixtures in Spain (not including the Champions League win against Bayern Munich in Barcelona in 1999) and won just once, against Deportivo la Coruna in 2002.
Valencia’s 11-match unbeaten run at home in Europe is another measure of the task facing United and Ferguson admits that earning positive results in Spain is always a tough challenge.
He said: “It’s obviously the hardest place for us to go. Spain has produced cup winning teams for years and years and you have to recognise that.
“The standard of Spanish football always been very good, so this is a tough game for us. We’re all aware of that.
“That’s the great thing about the European Cup, going to face the best teams in Spain and Italy. That’s what makes it such a fantastic tournament.”