Michael Owen on the one big factor that makes Liverpool Champions League favourites
Michael Owen believes Liverpool are blessed with a magic ingredient that could take them to a seventh Champions League title in Istanbul next May.
Jurgen Klopp’s European champions kick off the defence of the trophy they won in glorious fashion last season with a tricky trip to face Napoli on Tuesday night, with former Reds striker Owen predicting they should be viewed as favourites to hang onto the trophy ahead of deadly rivals Manchester City.
Speaking exclusively to us as he promoted his much-discussed autobiography Reboot in Dublin, the striker who scored 158 goals in a stellar Liverpool career identified why he believes Klopp’s side have an extra man to call upon in cup competitions.
“If you ask me to pick a Champions League winner before the competition kicks off, I’d go for either Manchester City or Liverpool and there is one big factor the second of those teams have over the rest,” begins Owen.
“The big advantage Liverpool have over every other team in Europe is their stadium because magic continues to happen time and again when they play matches at Anfield.
“I have played at all the biggest stadiums in Europe and the Bernabeu is a special place when it is rocking.
“You can say the same about the Nou Camp or Old Trafford, but Anfield has a track record of serving up games that you simply cannot explain and Liverpool always come out on top there.
“Before my time playing for the club and over the last 20 years, there are so many examples of European nights when Liverpool have come from nowhere to get through to the next round and the Anfield factor won the Champions League for them last season.
“They had no chance in the second leg of the semi-final against Barcelona after losing 3-0 at the Nou Camp, but one goal went in and you could just feel the miracle was within reach.
“It’s no longer a hope that something magical will happen, it has become the norm and that is hard for the opposition to ignore when Liverpool score a goal and that choir on The Kop rises.
“I have never experienced that kind of atmosphere at any other stadium in my life. The fans expect it and more importantly, the opposition expect it to happen and that fear factor has unsettled the best of teams.
“Barcelona had no answer to Liverpool once they got on a roll in front of those fans last season and when you see Man City manager Pep Guardiola saying in public that he fears going to Anfield, it highlights what that place can do to the best in the game.
“We saw something similar when Manchester United scored so many late goals during the Alex Ferguson era at the club and now that expectation is there when Liverpool play hope games in Europe.
“It doesn’t matter what the score going into a second leg at Anfield as they believe they have a chance and the opposition know they could be next on the list of teams who have succumbed at that stadium.
“Quite simply, there is no place like Anfield on a European night and it is a huge advantage for Liverpool every time they play in the Champions League.
“On top of that, Klopp’s team have players who can turn a game with a moment of magic and that is why they are so dangerous in cup competitions, so I would pick them as my Champions League favourites right now.”
Despite Liverpool’s status as European champions, the bookies have installed Premier League champions Manchester City as favourites to win their first Champions League title this season, with Barcelona are second-favourites after a summer of investment that saw Frankie de Jong arrive from Ajax for £75 and France striker Antoine Griezmann sign from Atletico Madrid.
Real Madrid’s capture of Eden Hazard from Chelsea bolstered their ambitions, but Owen is not convinced the giants of the European game have closed the gap on England’s two big-hitters.
“For me, City and Liverpool are the best two teams in Europe and I’d still say that despite the vast investment Real Madrid and Barcelona have made this summer,” stated former Real Madrid striker Owen.
“You can never rule those massive clubs out because their record in the competition confirms they will always get to the latter stages and they have the players to win it, but I just feel the top two in England are a step ahead of them at the moment.
“Real Madrid are going through a period of transition, while Barcelona have come up short in the Champions League over the last few years and I don’t see that changing this season, despite their signing of Griezmann and a few others.
“Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain are not proven at the highest level of the Champions League and the Italian sides seem to come up short in the knock-out stages.
“So I would expect to see the English clubs in the mix when we get to the semi-finals and the final”
Michael Owen: Reboot, published by Reach Sport, is on sale now. Digital and audiobook also available.