| LONDON, Sept 13
LONDON, Sept 13 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 defence, though next Tuesday's Champions
League match against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu could prove a
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 neighbours 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
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
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)