Owen begins Stoke career against champions City
LONDON (Reuters) - Michael Owen used to terrify international defenders and made scoring look easy but the extent to which his career has gone off the boil will be brought into focus on Saturday when he lines up for modest Stoke City.
Just days after his former England colleagues struggled in a 1-1 draw against Ukraine, Owen, who scored 40 international goals while representing some of Europe's most illustrious clubs, could make his Stoke debut against Manchester City.
In his pomp, Owen would have been just the man to find a breakthrough at Wembley, but injuries and a waning of his powers have kept him out of England consideration, and he has not represented his country since 2008.
City are aiming to extend their unbeaten start to their Premier League title defense, though next Tuesday's Champions League match against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu could prove a distraction.
Owen will hope to forge a traditional little-and-large partnership with Peter Crouch, who scored a wonder goal against City in the corresponding fixture last season and linked up with Owen to good effect when they represented England.
Crouch this week backed Owen, who counts Liverpool, Real Madrid and Manchester United among his former clubs, to force his way back into the international reckoning.
"If he's playing regularly for Stoke and scoring in the Premier League, I don't see why he can't force his way into the England set-up," Crouch said.
City's Manchester neighbors United face Wigan Athletic (1400), but summer signing Robin van Persie, whose hat-trick rescued his team against Southampton in their previous outing, is an injury doubt.
With Wayne Rooney already ruled out, United might turn to Danny Welbeck to lead the line after Van Persie suffered a thigh injury and was substituted at halftime in the Netherlands' 4-1 win over Hungary on Tuesday.
United could also be without playmaker Shinji Kagawa, who was forced out of Japan's 1-0 win over Iraq on Tuesday with a back problem.
United's attacking frailties, however, are less pronounced than Van Persie's former club Arsenal, who only broke their Premier League scoring duck in their third game, and face Southampton at home on Saturday (1400).
Arsenal's close-season replacement for Van Persie, Olivier Giroud, has so far failed to find the net.
"I've been freezing up a little bit just when I've been about to pull the trigger and that's exactly what happened in my first few matches for France," Giroud told FIFA's website (www.fifa.com).
The biggest blow for Arsenal could be the absence of midfielder Abou Diaby, who picked up a hip injury playing for France against Finland.
Diaby was imperious against Liverpool and rekindled memories of former terrace hero Patrick Vieira with his surging forward runs, but manager Arsene Wenger told French TV he has only a small chance of playing on Saturday.
Chelsea captain John Terry could return from injury to play against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road (1400), the first time he and Anton Ferdinand will have faced each other since Terry was found not guilty in court of racially abusing the QPR defender during the corresponding fixture last season.
Terry, who denied the charge, is battling an ankle injury he picked up on England duty last week. Fellow Chelsea defender Ashley Cole is also suffering from an ankle problem.
(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Stephen Wood)
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