Tuesday 18 June 2019

Owen fears in-form Liverpool strike force will be stifled by Roma tactics

Michael Owen. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Michael Owen. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Michael Owen can casually list off the impressive array of great strikers he played alongside during his career. Robbie Fowler, Alan Shearer, Brazil's Ronaldo and a young Wayne Rooney feature in his thoughts.

When it comes to his favourite strike partner, however, he has no reservations in listing Emile Heskey as his choice. That's because of the chemistry on the pitch that made them a functioning combination.

Owen believes that Jurgen Klopp has great forwards at his disposal as he prepares for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final with Roma. It's the contrast that makes Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah such a potent trio.

The only fear that the former Liverpool striker has ahead of the Anfield showdown with the Serie A side is that they might have to wait until the second leg for a scenario that really suits their strengths.

"It just clicks," says Owen, who feels it's a natural understanding rather than genius management that makes for such an effective formula. "You can always look at things on paper.

"Who did I have the best time with in my career? It's Heskey. Was he the best centre-forward? No. Fowler had more natural talent. Ronaldo, Shearer, Rooney. There were lots that were better as footballers, but it's about how you complement each other.

"Look at the great partnerships. Shearer and (Teddy) Sheringham. Dwight Yorke was always dropping in when he played with Andy Cole. Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish back in the day. You have to be a little different. Liverpool have a real mixture.

"Firmino is the real unsung hero for me, he's not really grabbing the headlines but he's allowing other people to score goals. He nicks the ball. I've said he's one of the best defenders Liverpool have had in 20 years. It's all from the front."

If Owen was managing Roma tonight, he would telling the players to learn the lessons from this year's Premier League and sit in deep with a view to limiting the options for the counter-attacking specialists.

"The reason Liverpool didn't win the league is the results against the lesser teams," he says. "The teams who almost realise 'we're not as good, they're better than us, let's sit back and retreat.' Now that (Philippe) Coutinho isn't there, they don't really have somebody that unlocks. They have speed and a high press, but they haven't got the guile maybe.

"Liverpool get results against big teams that are so confident in themselves that they pass the ball around the back and play their own game. Liverpool expose that confidence, they nick it. Firmino can nick it. They rely on being out of possession.

"So I'd expect Roma to put numbers behind the ball, give Liverpool the ball and ask them to open them up. I'd be surprised if Roma came out to play. If you gave me a Liverpool 1-0 win, I'd snap your hand off. If they get through this game without the away goal, Roma have to come out and play and Liverpool will kill them on the break."

Owen does have respect for the brilliance of goalscoring phenomenon Salah, especially as the prolific streak is effectively something the Egyptian has added to his game.

"You do look at the goalscorers who came through the ranks, they were always doing it as kids too," Owen argues. "Salah has been a wide man, he didn't score many at Chelsea and was a winger all his life. We are seeing an improvement for him.

"You can learn finish to better, but it requires hundreds of chances. At the start of this season, we even saw him miss chances and maybe it was his selection of finish that wasn't right a lot of the time.

"To be a goalscorer, you need to be a bit of bully in terms of the mentality. Even when you're 5-0 up, you're still getting another chance and wanting to score. These players need freedom to make mistakes.

"There's no right or wrong in terms of the centre-forward position now. Thierry Henry would go left wing for the first couple of years in England and still scored 30 goals.

"Salah is playing right wing. You have others that are just number nines. There's no hard and fast rule, you've got to find your way and what makes you different and special to everyone else. Salah has found that."

Michael Owen was in Dublin to attend an event hosted by Cadbury, 'Official Snack Partner' to the Premier League where he met SuperValu and Centra competition winners. The 2017/18 season marked the first year of Cadbury's three-year partnership.

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