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Rediff.com  » Sports » Liverpool braced for Owen return

Liverpool braced for Owen return

December 26, 2005 11:40 IST

England striker Michael Owen returns to Liverpool for the first time since leaving the club last year when improving Newcastle United visit Anfield on Monday in the Premier League.

The striker, who scored 118 league goals in eight years at Liverpool before moving to Real Madrid in 2004, will need to be at his sharpest to unlock a defence that has not conceded a league goal for more than two months.

Seven consecutive wins have catapulted Liverpool into third place after a stuttering start and with 12 points on offer over a hectic holiday programme they will be aiming to emerge as the closest title rivals to runaway leaders Chelsea.

The champions, who face west London rivals Fulham on Monday, have a nine-point lead over second-placed Manchester United, who host struggling West Bromwich Albion. Liverpool are six points further adrift but have played two games less.

Fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, making a strong bid for European football under Dutch manager Martin Jol, take on Birmingham City at White Hart Lane.

Newcastle boss Graeme Souness, who had a glittering playing career at Liverpool and a less successful spell as manager, believes Owen, who he signed for 16 million pounds ($27.79 million) in September, will return with a point to prove.

"I'm sure Michael will really be looking forward to going back and showing his old public what they are missing," he said on Newcastle's website.

"He is on fire at the moment and long may that continue. I think he is showing what we know when we paid out so much money for him. He scores goals and is a very special player."

ANOTHER YARD

Owen, who made no secret of a desire to return to Liverpool before Newcastle stepped in, has won over the Geordie fans with seven league goals so far including a clinical hat-trick in the 4-2 victory at West Ham United on Saturday.

Souness believes Alan Shearer, for one, has benefited from his reunion with his former England strike partner.

"I don't know if he gets a lift playing with Michael but he seems to have found another yard from somewhere and he's really enjoying it," Souness said of Shearer, who needs one more goal to equal Jackie Milburn's record of 200 goals for the club.

Chelsea have yet to drop a point at home this season, a record that should not be threatened by a Fulham side yet to win away.

Fulham keeper Mark Crossley, however, believes they can cause their billionaire neighbours some problems.

"We'll have to make it a horrible game, nasty, get men behind the ball and make it difficult for them to break us down," he told Fulham's website.

Arsenal, languishing in eighth place, will be desperate to avoid a fourth consecutive league defeat for the first time in 10 years, when they travel to London rivals Charlton Athletic.

They needed a penalty shootout to squeeze past third division Doncaster Rovers and reach the League Cup semi-finals on Wednesday.

Premier League clubs face four games in eight days -- a schedule Souness describes as crazy.

"After the first game you are risking muscle injuries, you go into the second game on a wing and a prayer, and when you get beyond the second you really are in the lap of the gods," he said on Newcastle's website.

Martyn Herman
Source:
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